Denver voters will decide seven local measures on this year’s November ballot, including both city council referred questions and citizen-initiated measures. The following are my recommendations for each of them (spoiler alert: they’re all bad ideas).
Referred Question 2I (Denver Public Library Tax): DPL is asking voters to approve a permanent mill levy increase that would raise $36 million in 2023 to expand hours, services, and salaries, and for some capital expenses.
No. In 2012, Denver voters already removed Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) limits on property taxes, in part for libraries, and since then the library budget has more than kept pace with inflation and population growth; the 2022 operational budget was over $63 million, including Covid recovery money. The library doesn’t say what will be done with the capital expenditure portion in future years. Proponents claim the mill levy override will provide a more stable funding stream than the city’s general fund, glossing over the fact that the city’s general fund fluctuates with the citizenry’s ability to pay.
Referred Question 2J (Lifting TABOR Limits on The Climate Tax): In 2020, Denver voters approved a 0.25% sales tax to fund climate change activities. Currently, because of TABOR limits, the city would be obligated to return $1.3 million to taxpayers. This question would allow the city to keep that money.
No. Climate change is well above the city’s pay grade, and basic services are increasingly non-functioning. It also creates another layer of bureaucracy that will increase electric and gas bills for the average city resident. Paying higher taxes for the privilege of making it harder to heat and cool your home is a terrible deal.
Referred Question 2K, (Lifting TABOR Limits on The Homeless Resolution Tax): In 2020, Denver voters also approved a 0.25% sales tax for homeless initiatives. Similar to the Climate Tax, TABOR limits would require the city to return $1.3 million to taxpayers, and this question would allow the city to keep that money.
No. The city is clearly flailing when it comes to dealing with the increasing homeless problem. Giving it more money, in excess of the over $100 million already allocated for this purpose, to spend on ideas that haven’t worked is just rewarding failure.
Referred Question 2L (Denver Ballot Modernization): Amusingly, this measure, which would impose a single-subject rule on ballot initiatives fails to live up to that rule itself, also dealing with deadlines for candidate qualification.
No. In 2021, Denver moved up odd-year municipal elections from the first Tuesday in May to the first Tuesday in April; this measure would move back the deadline for candidates to qualify from 55 to 75 days. In two years, the deadline for candidate qualification would have gone from mid-March to mid-January in years following statewide and federal elections. The difficulty of competing with those elections for people’s attention benefits the politically connected and makes it harder for outsiders to qualify.
In addition, the measure would create a single-subject rule, which has created several controversial decisions at the state level, and which would put title-setting in the hands of the increasingly politicized clerk & recorder’s office.
While the initiative process has produced a number of terrible ideas, it also remains the best hope for citizens to rein in city government should they choose to do so. Taken together, the elements of this “ballot modernization” measure would tend to limit the people’s ability to do so.
Initiative 305 (No Eviction Without Representation): Another in a series of taxes on rental property owners, following a licensing fee and then restrictions on short-term rentals, and in one of the least affordable rental markets in the country amid a housing shortage.
No. Leave aside adding insult to injury in making landlords pay for services to help delinquent or negligent tenants delay eviction. This question would only tighten that market even further.
Initiative 306 (Waste No More): Another addition to the city’s recycling and waste fetish.
No. With citizens having been forced into an additional “fee” for what has traditionally been considered a basic public service – trash collection – this proposal would tighten restrictions even further, forcing apartments, condos, restaurants, and sports arenas to offer recycling and composting. Certainly not wasting is better than wasting, but some portion of recycling ends up in landfill as it is, and it’s not as though we’re really running out of landfill space. With inflation already taking its toll, and companies unable to find workers, this seems like a poor time to add to the cost of rent and the cost of doing business.
Initiative 307 (Denver Deserves Sidewalks): Sure, Denver deserves sidewalks, but this isn’t the way to get them built.
No. Homeowners shouldn’t have to repair what amount to public rights of way – that much the measure gets right. But the assessment mechanism is bizarre and only loosely related to either the property value or the benefit of the sidewalk. As with so much else, in a $1.3 billion budget, it ought to be possible to cut some things out to pay for priorities. As with so much else, the city would rather leave those things unfixed so it can continue to cry poor. It’s unusual that I find myself on the same side of an issue as the Denver Post, which opposes the measure as well, but let’s applaud the editorial board’s rare outburst of good sense.
Joshua Sharf is a Denver resident and regular contributor to Complete Colorado.
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