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Outsider

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Well, boys and girls, it's time to take your medicine and vote, come April, to raise your taxes.

After all, nine City Council members, not to mention scores of earnest, civic-minded volunteers, are all telling us that we just gotta do it. We need to step up to the pump and vote for a 45 percent increase in the municipal sales tax, from 2.1 percent to 3.0 percent.

Well, maybe. Let's take a little trip down memory lane, back to the early '90s, when I, as a fresh-faced rookie City Council member, threw myself wholeheartedly into the campaign to reinstate the half-cent sales tax that the voters had so ungraciously repealed in 1991.

We made the same arguments that today's not-so-fresh-faced (except for Dr. Ted) Council members will be making in the next couple of months -- our tax rates are too low to support a high-growth Western city, basic services will suffer, businesses will pack up and leave, and our oh-so-prized quality of life will diminish.

The voters didn't buy it; we suffered what is generally referred to as a crushing defeat at the polls.

When you lose an election, you've got a choice. You can blame the benighted know-nothings who voted against you, or you can make an agonizing reappraisal of your own position.

In this case, reality overwhelmed prejudice. The economy didn't contract; it boomed. Crime didn't increase; it declined. In many respects, things got better; the voters agreed to fund a new airport, the World Arena was built with only a modest percentage of public funding, property values soared and jobs were plentiful.

So the next time the political/business/do-gooder establishment united around a crucially needed new tax, I was a little skeptical. In this case it was an attempt, just a few years ago, to enact a countywide eight-tenths of a cent sales tax that would have been used to widen Interstate 25.

It struck me as a lunatic scheme, using local tax dollars to replace state/federal money. Curiously, I was the only elected official to campaign against this particular scam, but the voters didn't care -- they rejected it overwhelmingly. Of course, they were right; as you may have noticed, I-25 is being widened with state/federal dollars at this very moment.

So what's up this time? Are we, as some claim, being asked to pay a due bill for drainage, infrastructure and transportation improvements that developers have managed to weasel out of for the past 20 years? Or are we simply playing catch-up, finally coughing up after years of trying to do it on the cheap? Dunno, but I thought it'd be instructive to compare our proposed tax rate with Denver's, see how we stack up, and see just what we're gonna get for our money.

If the new tax passes, we'll be paying a total of 6.9 percent, which breaks down to 2.9 percent to the state, 3.0 percent to the city, and 1.0 percent to the county. Denver residents currently pay 3.5 percent to the city, 2.9 percent to the state, .6 percent to RTD, .1 percent to the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, and .1 percent to the Stadium District, for a total tax bite of 7.2 percent. So what does Denver get for its money that we don't?

Denver has: Coors Field and the new Bronco stadium (both largely funded with local tax dollars), a world-class art museum (ditto), a convention center (ditto), a park system that has been vastly improved and expanded in the last 10 years (ditto), a botanic garden (ditto), an aquarium (ditto), a substantial light rail network (ditto), and ever-improving transportation infrastructure (ditto).

And what about us? Well, we'll have Confluence Park sometime in the next few years, and we've saved a lot of open space, thanks to the TOPS tax. And we'll be filling a lot of potholes, hiring more cops and firefighters, extending some roads and fixing a lot of drainage problems.

And that's it; in other words, for a tax rate that's just slightly below Denver's, we can't do much more than the basics.

Put slightly differently, those tax-lovin' Liberals and Democrats in Denver are getting Dom Perignon and Beluga caviar for their tax dollars, while we tightfisted conservatives will be paying just as much for Old Milwaukee and a bag of Cheetos.

Makes you think that we're just a bunch of gullible, small-town hicks, paying top dollar for damaged goods. But look at it this way: Once we've fixed the infrastructure, so that we can move quickly, safely, and comfortably from one part of town to another, then we can deal with the fact that there's no fun place to go.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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