The Denver Post
It’s time to reject tax hikes for pet projects in Denver.
Why compete against other worthy causes for funding when you can just bypass the entire pesky budgeting process and funnel money directly from taxpayers to your pet project?
That’s the slipperyslope trend we’re seeing on the Denver ballot this year, where four proposed sales tax increases would collectively generate $115 million annually to go directly to specific causes, some of which seem welloutside the ordinary operations of a city government.
We hope Denver voters — who historically have been generous with their approval of tax increases — soundly reject these four measures, sending a message that if a project is worthy of funding it should go through the appropriate channels of government.
The city of Denver must reserve space to grow the sales tax for economic downturns to prevent core services from being cut and reductions in force. Denver relies on sales and use tax for about half of its operations budget. The city should safeguard its tax capacity.
For example, following the 2008 market crash, the city cut about $540 million from its budget in five years. Then in 2012 city leaders asked voters if they could retain property tax revenue that otherwise would have gone back to taxpayers. We endorsed 2A as a necessary step to keep police on the streets.
In fact, this board has historically been supportive of tax increases for Denver city and school operations. Just last fall we supported the city’s $937 million bond issue paid for through property taxes. The city has done an excellent job spending such tax dollars in the past and it was a smart investment for taxpayers. Before that we endorsed Denver Public School’s bond issue and mill levy override. Investing in our city and in our schools makes sense.
But we cannot support these four questions that expand government to unsustainable areas: Referred Measure 2A, a 0.25 percent sales tax for parks; Initiated Ordinance 300, a 0.08 percent sales tax for a Denver schools’ scholarship fund; Initiated Ordinance 301, a 0.25 percent sales tax for mental health programs; and Initiated Ordinance 302, a 0.08 percent sales tax for food programs for lowincome children.
These measures would set an uncomfortable precedent of, in the case of three of the measures, nonprofits being able to pursue their own taxgenerated dedicated funding streams. Other charitable causes in the city must be kicking themselves that they didn’t think of asking voters first. Where does it stop?
We can get the closest to supporting Referred Measure 2A, which won the approval of City Council, giving it at least the official stamp of approval by the gatekeepers of our budget. The 0.25 percent sales tax would raise $45 million annually to acquire land for parks, trails and open space.
We also buy the argument that if a city invests in scholarship funds for its high school graduates it will see a return on that investment through economic output: that’s the premise behind Initiated Ordinance 300, Prosperity Colorado, a $13.9 million a year tax.
Denver must do something to ensure that graduates from our high schools can return to this city and obtain the jobs that enable them to afford to live here. It’s a sound argument and the nonprofits in this space are doing good work to provide support both financial and educational for Denver students. But if those nonprofits were to ask city council for $14 million a year from the city budget, we’re afraid they would get laughed out of the room.
We urge voters to reject these tax increases. Members of The Denver Post’s editorial board are Megan Schrader, editor of the editorial pages; Lee Ann Colacioppo, editor; Justin Mock, CFO; Bill Reynolds, vice president of circulation and production; Bob Kinney, vice president of information technology; and TJ Hutchinson, systems editor.