Boigon Stacks Deck for Culturals (Or, did she???) – Denver Tax; Bond Ballot Questions

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard by now that the General Government Committee of the Denver City Council decided the order–first to last–for the tax and bond questions (explication provided here) that will appear on this November’s ballot. Two points: 1) Carol Boigon is the Chairperson of the General Government Committee; 2) It is generally believed that the ballot questions listed first will have a better chance of garnering a majority of votes than those listed toward the bottom.

The final order is as follows:

1.) 2.5 mill property tax increase
2.) Health and Human Services
3.) Libraries
4.) Public Works
5.) Parks and recreation
6.) Deferred maintenance for city buildings
7.) Deferred maintenance for cultural facilities
8.) New construction of cultural facilities
9.) Public Safety

By law, any proposed tax increase must appear first on the ballot. So, there was no question as to where the 2.5 mill property tax increase would appear. It’s first.

Now, here’s how this august group (General Government Committee), decided the ballot order for the bond questions. NOTE: Once you’ve navigated to the video screen, use the drop-down below the screen and click on “November Ballot Question Order.” Sure, lots of laughs, surely some maneuvering, a few pointed observations. But, generally, a study in political theater.

If you’ve watched the video, you already know that Boigon first proposed the bond questions be listed alphabetically. Doing so would, of course, place the cultural issues first (after the tax question) on the ballot…or so the presumption was by Boigon and the committee. Methinks, however, that the city attorney–David Broadwell, in this case–will have to do a little tweaking of the ballot language in order to get to where the committee obviously (with the exception of Jeanne Faatz), wants to be with the ordering of the issues. Suffice it to say, the ordinances which encompass the specific language to be noted on the ballot, do not provide titles, per se, that would accomplish what Boigon and others obviously want to accomplish: Culturals first.

In any event, Council President Michael Hancock proposed that there be an “…apolitical way to do this…,” (i.e. set the order the measures would appear on the ballot). Hancock suggested it was important that they, the committee, avoid any modicum of “…hidden political agenda…” in determining the order. It was then that Councilman Charlie Brown suggested that the bond questions simply be pulled out of his 10X Stetson; surely a fair, random process. Brown opined that, “What we do will set the tone for the campaign.” He noted they needed to be “…above board,” in order to preclude any suggestion from constituents that the ballot order was “…rigged.”

Well, down the line they went. Boigon repeatedly arguing for alphabetical. Councilman Garcia arguing for alphabetical. Councilwoman Faatz arguing that alphabetical would give the culturals a “…boost,” which, by the way, Faatz is opposed to. Councilwoman Johnson suggested the culturals be “…paired,” actually noting that, “…smart as voters are, I think they could get them backwards.” (Remember: One of the cultural questions has to do with deferred maintenance; and one of them has to do with NEW construction. The NEW construction cultural question totals exactly $70 Million, which would be the EXACT amount to automatically impose yet another property tax increase–in ADDITION to the 2.5 mill increase already encapsulated in item one of the ballot questions.) It was left to Councilman Lopez to point out that since bi-lingual ballots are required in Colorado, there would be no way to present the ballot items in alphabetical order, given the two languages–English and Spanish–would put the questions in different order simply because the two languages would not accommodate a compatible alphabetical listing. Council President Michael Hancock then asked, “Why do we fear random order? I don’t want this body to be considered biased.” Embarrassing moment: new Councilwoman Madison voiced–in spite of the English/Spanish issue–that her preference was, “…still alphabetical.”

Long story short: Boigon called for two votes. The result of the first vote provided that the committee would draw the bond questions out of a hat (Brown’s 10X Stetson) to determine their ballot order; the second question–naturally, of course, laid on the table by Boigon–determined that the two cultural related issues would appear together on the ballot.

Okay. Let’s take a look at the two cultural-related bond questions. I’ve already scribbled something with regard to the culturals, but let’s try to put this in perspective.

Boigon’s bias was clearly demonstrated at the General Government Committee meeting. She’s quite the cultured lady…maneuvering to get the cultural questions at the top of the ballot, as well as grouping them together because, as one of the coucilperson said, “It just make sense.” Well, she got half a loaf. Even though the cultural questions appear as numbers six and seven on the list (toward the bottom), she was able to garner support for the said grouping. She stacked the deck. But, will her machinations backfire.

Problem is, the two cultural questions together amount to a total of $113, 546,000.00. Yeah, almost $114 million. That’s more than any of the other bond questions, with the exception of question 4 that deals with streets, transportation and public works system facilities. It’s more than public safety, parks, deferred maintenance on city buildings, human services needs and libraries. At what cost culture?

Taxpayers, smart taxpayers will hopefully ask that question when they cast their vote. At what cost culture? The deferred maintenance question on culturals includes Botanic Gardens ($18.6 million), Boettcher Concert Hall ($20.7 million), Champa Street side of the auditorium and the Buell Theater ($2 million), and the Denver Museum of Science and Nature ($19.3 million). The NEW CONSTRUCTION question on culturals includes Boettcher Concert Hall ($40 million), and Denver Museum of Nature and Science ($30 million). Once again, both these ballot questions amount to $114 million. AND, the NEW CONSTRUCTION for culturals will jut Denver’s bond indebtedness beyond what is legally allowed and, therefore, require an ADDITIONAL increase in property taxes beyond the 2.5 mill increase provided for in question 1.

As hard as Boigon tried to stack the deck for the culturals, did she, in reality, provide an opportunity for voters to actually balance the almost “must have” deferred maintenance for culturals against the “we can do without for a while” NEW CONSTRUCTION for culturals?

Bond indebtedness, like credit cards, accrue interest. I know you know that. But, did you know that the anticipated 20 year payoff on all the bond questions will amount to $1,140,272,843.00? That’s billion. Not even including, here, the anticipated $27 million per year generated from the 2.5 mill increase on property taxes.

Dare I wonder–if these bonds pass and the Hick has all this money floating around–what’s he going to do with the current $850 million city budget. Of course, the current budget supports a whole lot of things. But, if all the bonds pass, won’t there be a wee bit of wiggle room for the Hick to, oh, say build a whole lot of housing for the homeless; maybe up the ante to Denver Health beyond the $42 million the city already hands over to them? Or, maybe we’ll see more child care centers popping up. Why’s the city in the child care business anyway?

Ah, don’t get me started.

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2 Responses to Boigon Stacks Deck for Culturals (Or, did she???) – Denver Tax; Bond Ballot Questions

  1. Jerry says:

    Thanks for the detailed rundown. I find it strange that no one in Denver is talking about the coming recession. Not a good time to be increasing taxes and pumping up bonds. Maybe that’s why we have the Ritter Freeze coming up.

  2. georgeindenver says:

    Thanks, Jerry. I think the credit card analogy is instructive. But, alas, Hick’s hunky-dory “feel good” mantra will, I have no doubt, put a smiley face on this whole business. Enormous debt isn’t a problem for a city run by a millionaire “business” mayor, is it. Recession or not, I sincerely hope the electorate will look at these bond and tax questions very carefully and understand the implications of each of the questions.

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