As a green Democrat, I was leaning toward a No vote on Proposition CC anyway, but it was Gov. Jared Polis’ op-ed in the Oct. 29 Denver Post (“Prop. CC would make growth work for Colorado”) that put me over the top.
Polis made it abundantly clear that Prop. CC was about growth and all of the negative impacts of growth on Colorado. The word “growth” appears five times, where he discusses the litany of horrible things happening to our beautiful state because of growth. And it’s a long list – air pollution, traffic jams, overburdened health care system, underfunded schools, urban crowding, rapidly escalating housing prices, a cash-strapped state budget, increased climate change emissions, loss of farmland and open space and on and on.
Specifically related to what Proposition CC proposed to help pay for:
Our roads are a congested, pot-holed mess because of growth.Our schools are overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed because of growth.Yet, Polis and the Legislature only focus on growth’s impacts instead of the cause, which is the growth itself. Why doesn’t Polis or the Legislature do something about the root cause of the problem?
Instead, the state government as well as almost every local government in the state lures growth. Businesses are lured with financial incentives and tax breaks. People and their cars are lured with housing and gas prices that don’t reflect the true cost of moving, living or driving here. And so growth is incentivized and subsidized without it having to pay for the actual cost of growth.
Because the state and local governments have completely failed to charge growth the true cost of growth, the response from the mainstream of the Democratic Party running the state right now has been to try to raise taxes to pay for the negative impacts of growth. For the second year now, Polis and the Legislature have put a statewide tax increase on the ballot to ask voters to pay for the impacts of growth. And, for the second consecutive year, the voters turned it down.
CC wasn’t technically a tax increase, but if the state keeps your TABOR refund check, it feels like a tax increase to taxpayers. Proposition 110, which was on the ballot in 2018, was a tax increase and met the same fate.
If you have emphysema and go to the doctor, the doctor will tell you to immediately stop smoking. But if you have a disease called population growth, the state and local governments of Colorado keep fueling the disease by luring and subsidizing more growth, and then the mainstream Colorado Democrats try to treat the symptoms of the disease by raising taxes.
Instead of trying to raise statewide taxes on everybody who lives in Colorado, the state and local governments should charge growth the true cost of growth. Impact fees should be charged on new businesses and housing to pay for a vast array of impacts on government services, corporate tax breaks should be reined in and fees on vehicle miles traveled should be charged to fund and fix the transportation system. These are just a few examples of how growth can pay its own way.
I’m guessing that the governor and the Legislature think the third time’s the charm and will put yet another statewide tax on the ballot in 2020. Or, they will try to undermine or end TABOR once and for all. They figure – and it makes good sense – that progressive voter turnout will be very high in the 2020 presidential election, and so passing a statewide sales tax, or gutting TABOR, might actually work. They might be right.
But they might be wrong.
As a progressive Democrat, I’m deeply concerned about the eco-vandalism that is devouring our state by the growth machine. Growth is destroying everything Coloradans hold dear.
If the mainstream Democrats don’t try to rein in growth or try to force growth to pay its own way, we green Democrats will likely continue seeing red.
Gary Wockner is an environmentalist and Democrat based in Fort Collins.