Editorial: Leaders should take heed of the recent anti-tax mood

It’s clear that local and state voters are generally in an anti-tax mood, especially when it comes to property and income tax hikes for new endeavors. Government and quasi-public entities with taxing authority ought to take heed of this trend before rushing to traverse the slippery road that leads to yet another campaign to raise money to build new and expanded facilities or to create better programs.

In Tuesday’s election, midvalley voters from Pitkin and Eagle counties overwhelmingly rejected two proposed property tax questions to fund construction and operations of a new recreation center at Crown Mountain Park. Had the ballot items been approved, residential property taxes within the park’s special district would have increased by $5.51 per month on $100,000 of a home’s market value. Homeowners already pay $18.24 per year to support the park itself.

Also on Tuesday, Colorado and Pitkin County voters soundly nixed Amendment 66, which sought to raise $1 billion per year through higher income taxes to create major changes for state public-education funding. The proposal aimed to expand preschool options and provide more money to the state’s K-12 schools with large numbers of at-risk students.

Given those two examples, we also are reminded of Pitkin County’s proposal last year to raise property taxes to help fund construction and operations of an expanded Aspen library. There were many reasons surrounding that defeat — including the perception that the library already is big enough, that the town has seen too many big projects in recent years and that the county and library should use existing funds for any necessary renovations. But an anti-tax spirit, coupled with a conservative push for voter turnout to defeat the city’s troubled Castle Creek hydroelectric project, certainly played a role in the rejection of a tax-hike-supported library expansion.

There are exceptions. Statewide on Tuesday, voters approved Amendment AA, which imposes new excise and sales taxes on recreational retail marijuana. But as a “sin tax,” that’s quite different from the other examples. Only those who are buying pot have to pay it, and the money will be spent on regulation of the new recreational marijuana industry as well as to fund statewide school construction. As proponents noted, the revenue fulfills promises to voters who supported last year’s statewide amendment to legalize recreational retail cannabis sales.

And locally in 2012, voters supported a nominal sales tax increase to provide extra help to the Aspen School District so that it wouldn’t have to cut special programs and personnel in the face of state education-funding cuts.

But in the big picture, tax increases haven’t been a welcome sight lately, and the song-and-dance routines that accompany each campaign are starting to become tiresome. We’ve supported some of the proposals and opposed others, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and disdain.

Perhaps local and state leaders should give the revenue-raising game a rest in 2014. Wouldn’t that be unusual, to go an entire year without having to answer a group’s lobby for more money, whether the cause is good or bad? Can public entities refrain from putting their hands out over the course of 12 months? Is it within the realm of possibility?

Frankly, the rhetoric for and against these issues has grown stale.


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