You Don't Need the Whole Horse if You Just Want the Shoes

July 19 2007, 12:42 PM
The Rocky Mountain News has a good editorial today that is critical of Denver's (failed) effort to put an all-encompassing bonding package on the November ballot:
Several Denver council members were clearly disappointed Wednesday to learn that a $550 million bonding package to finance infrastructure couldn't be presented to voters this fall as a single measure, along with a separate 2.5 mill increase in property taxes to cover capital maintenance. A single bond measure, of course, would have left voters with an all-or-nothing choice; if they wanted the high priority projects on the list, they'd have to take the lower priority items as well. And some council members obviously felt the chances of everything passing would be enhanced by consolidating the proposal. Well, count us among those not disappointed in the fact that the city's legal staff concluded that the Colorado Constitution's "single subject" requirement prevents the council from wrapping the entire financing package into a couple of ballot questions. Denver voters can still approve every item if they want. Maybe they will. But they deserve the chance to vote for some categories and not others if they simply don't agree that all of them need an infusion of funds. Instead, the package was submitted to the council in eight categories, and that's very likely how it will go before voters. The mill-levy increase will be the first item, and the remaining seven are broken down as follows: refurbish existing buildings; health and human services; parks and recreation centers; streets, transportation and public works; libraries; and cultural facilities. Each will have a price tag attached and each will have to be defended on its merits - and passed or not one by one.
I couldn't agree more with the News here. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and the city council saw obvious political benefit to running all of these measures under one big ticket, because it's easier to get individual groups to separately support one main proposal. While it was a smart move from a strategic perspective, it wasn't fair to ask voters to approve something they disliked in order to get funding for something they wanted because not all projects carry the same level of importance to people. For example, you may agree to a tax increase in order to fund transportation programs and street repairs, but you might be interested in a $75 million bill to renovate Boettcher Concert Hall if you don't ever attend an event there. That's not to say that either proposal is right or wrong, but you shouldn't have to swallow one in order to have the other.