A little less than a month to go before the voters render their verdict, and Mayor John Suthers’ sales tax proposal seems headed for Victory Lane. The polls are good and the buzz on the streets positive. The business community is solidly behind Issue 2C, City Council forwarded it to the voters by an 8-1 margin — so what could go wrong?
Judging from the past, a lot.
In the past couple of decades, Springs voters have approved three substantial tax hikes while turning down several others. Those that passed included the Trails and Open Space Tax, the Public Safety Sales Tax and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority renewal.
Like the proposed “Road, Bridge and Infrastructure Tax,” those successful issues focused on long-term solutions to visible community problems. Unlike the mayor’s proposal, they emerged after prolonged and at-times difficult community debate.
The TOPS tax was first proposed in the early 1990s. Council referred it to the voters in 1995, when it failed by a 53-47 margin. Undeterred, TOPS backers prepared an initiated measure, gathered signatures and put it on the 1997 ballot. It passed by 54-46 percent.
Similarly, the PSST and PPRTA taxes were the product of long deliberation and careful presentation. Despite opposition from the usual quarters (paging Douglas Bruce), both passed easily. PPRTA’s first version, passed in 2004, was so visibly successful that the renewal in 2012 (actually for the period of 2015-2024) encountered no roadblocks.
We know from daily experience that our roads are in an advanced state of disrepair. We know that the city hasn’t been able to find the money to fix them.
Yet we tend to judge city government by our own experience, not by earnestly compiled statistics.
In 2009, my Westside home was burglarized. The perps pulled a truck up in the side yard and loaded it up with jewelry, tools, bikes and anything else of value. When we called the cops, they showed up, took a report and did nothing. I shrugged my shoulders — it appeared that residential burglary was a risk-free crime in Colorado Springs.
We know from daily experience that our roads are in an advanced state of disrepair.
One evening last week, my buddy Steve called me with a question.
“How long did it take the cops to come to your house after you were burglarized a few years ago?” he asked.
“A couple of hours — why?”
“Kim [his longtime girlfriend] just got cleaned out, and we’ve been waiting for three and a half hours. We drove down to dispatch and they told us to wait our turn. I’m so pissed!”
Then Steve launched into an angry dissection of the city’s apparent incompetence.
“You know, I’m not going to vote for that damned tax,” Steve said. “I worked to help pass PPRTA in 2004, and it was supposed to be the transportation tax to end all transportation taxes. And the public safety sales tax — the cops have their own dedicated tax, we spend more than half the budget on public safety, and they can’t be bothered with burglaries? I don’t know what happens to all that money. I haven’t seen any credible accounting to justify this — it’s just being stuffed down our throats.”
A successful anti-tax campaign would be structured to appeal to voters who, like Steve, may feel pressured and confused.
Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights author Douglas Bruce is still on the warpath, but he’s forced to deal with his own parole-violating sideshow. So far, he’s done little but badger the media and pass out fliers.
With the Dougster limited, the task of coordinating the opposition seems to have fallen to Laura Carno, a conservative Republican activist. Her shadowy nonprofit “I Am Created Equal” bankrolled the successful recall of state Sen. John Morse in 2013. A spin-off, IACE Action is actively soliciting donations to oppose 2C.
And there’s the Great White Whale of taxophobia, Americans for Prosperity. They’re against the tax and threatening to put serious bucks into an anti-tax campaign. Will they funnel their money through Carno?
On Sept. 30, IACE Action reported raising $4,000 and spending $1,971. By contrast, Springs Future (in support of the tax) had raised $179,775 and had spent $72,579.
So far, it doesn’t look like a fair fight, but a couple hundred grand is pocket change to AFP and the Koch Brothers. There’s still plenty of time to mount a campaign. Yet the question is a simple one: Is it worth the risk?
Lose, and the Great White Whale is a beached mackerel. Losing a tax fight in Colorado Springs would be disastrous public relations, while winning would bring few benefits. As Kenny Rogers once sang, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em …”