This year’s ballot is a sparse one beyond the presidential pick, but in Denver there are two critical tax hike proposals. The first is a Denver Public Schools (DPS) massive bond proposal and the other Mayor Hancock’s property tax hike. We support DPS’ requests (Ballot Issue 3A and 3B) and oppose the Mayor’s refusal to be financially responsible (Ballot Issue 2A).
DPS is requesting almost a half billion dollars in bonding capacity to pay for maintenance, technology, renovation and upgrades. In addition, they are seeking a mill levy increase of $49 million for enrichment, student support services and other programs.
Voters have long become cynical about the cry, “It’s for the kids,” which translates in a lot of minds to, “It’s actually for a bunch of really greedy amoral adults.” But that is not the case this time.
The majority of the Denver Public Schools Board has shown that it does, in fact, truly want to change the culture and practices of the schools in Denver for the betterment of the students. The restructuring of the badly failing schools in the Northwest was not simply cosmetic. Everything from closing non-performing schools to substituting charter schools, turnaround schools and innovative schools has been accomplished over the rabid opposition of Denver Classroom Teachers Association, i.e. the Denver Teachers Union.
As readers of this newspaper know, the seven-member Denver Public Schools Board is split 4 to 3 with the reformers holding the majority and backers of the teachers union holding three seats. The bond proposal has been promoted by the reformers and opposed by the teachers union. In a surprising move, teachers union supporter Jeanne Kaplan changed her vote to the affirmative after getting what she called important concessions. We doubt the so-called concessions were of much benefit to school kids, but the 5 to 2 vote splits the teacher union opposition.
Teacher union advocate Arturo Jimenez claimed that he opposed the tax proposal because $200 million would go to charter and other schools that give parents a choice. Jimenez refuses to show how he came up with that figure which is not supported by the facts. Board member Andrea Merida’s stated opposition to the proposals verges on the incoherent as is often the case for her.
If we want great schools in Denver and support reforms to give parents and kids educational choices we need to give the reformers the funds to effectuate positive change. We strongly support “Yes” votes on both Ballot Issues 3A and 3B.
Conversely if you want things to change in Denver and not have the city run by a hidden cabal of crony capitalists you may want to vote “No” on Mayor Hancock’s so called De-Brucing proposal, Ballot Issue 2A.
We praised Mayor Hancock in our August 2012 editorial for putting it on the ballot instead of just seeking to impose a massive trash collection fee. Now we urge voters to vote “No” on the proposal.
The voters are told Denver has a structural deficit which means even in bountiful times the city’s revenues can never meet its expenses. The obvious conclusion to the existence of a structural deficit is that Denver city government is unable to stop spending money it does not have. Why in the world would anyone want to give such a government $68 million per year more to squander?
It would be one thing if Hancock was going to take a portion of the money and pay down outstanding debt so there would not be a structural deficit, but no. Instead he tries to buy votes by saying he will allow kids into city pools free of charge, keep libraries open five days a week and even bother to pave some 300 miles of roads he has neglected.
But that will use up only a fraction of the money that would be flowing into city coffers. What he really wants to use the money for is first to pay off the public sector unions, in particular the Denver Police Union, which has refused to negotiate its contract until after the election. He will also do away with the cost saving instituted by the Hickenlooper administration such as furlough days for public workers.
As a practical matter Mayor Hancock has a long record of being a spendthrift unlike his predecessors Hickenlooper and Vidal. On the City Council he supported every wage demand for public workers including himself and the members of City Council and his record is devoid of him ever standing up to fight for the public purse.
The “Yes on 2A” campaign that he is the chair of is the ultimate in cynical posturing. Denver is an overwhelmingly Democratic town so the campaign slogan “Moving Denver Forward” is intended to be similar to MSNBC’s “Lean Forward” and Obama’s campaign “Forward.” Not to leave out Republicans, the campaign obviously believes that they want ever more police and firemen no matter what it costs and whether they are needed or not. The campaign emphasizes that passing 2A will allow the city to hire 100 new firemen and police recruits and buy 1,000 shiny new vehicles for the police, fire and Public Works.
But does Denver need more police and firemen and 1,000 new vehicles? The answer is no. Both departments are badly overstaffed. With all new buildings and homes being required to have sprinkler systems the city needs less not more firemen. In the Police Department officers are refusing to retire since there are few new jobs in the private sector and the top of the pyramid is busting at the brims. If Mayor Hancock could manage to actually fire the brutal and dishonest officers the Civil Service Commission keeps on rehiring, maybe he could make a better case.
The dirty little secret about these tax campaigns are how they are financed. The city is legally prohibited from using public funds in support of a tax proposal. Can you guess where the funds come from? If you said Pat Hamill and his cohorts at Colorado Concern you would be correct. Why do they do so? Is it their deep-felt sense of civic duty? Of course not. They do it in return for municipal largess that will make them tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. The public sector unions will benefit from 2A. Pat Hamill and Colorado Concern will greatly benefit from 2A. Who will lose from 2A? You.
If for just once Denver voters turned down a tax hike fostered on them by the public sector unions and the avaricious crony capitalists it would be a thundering jolt to the political establishment in Denver. Lo and behold City Hall would be forced to actually listen occasionally to the concerns of everyday citizens. While a who’s who of Denver insiders, and wannabe insiders, is listed on the masthead of the “Yes on 2A” what’s more interesting is who is not listed. Former Mayor and now Governor Hickenlooper has refused to be associated with the effort and the Denver Chamber of Commerce has refused to back this obvious bilking of the public. It appears that Mayor Hancock may be unsuccessful in stuffing Walmart down the throats of the citizens in the vicinity of 9th and Colorado. Who knows? Maybe this will be the year the voters of Denver finally stand up to those who shamelessly exploit and use them.
— Editorial Board