If fewer cops, more potholes, shorter library and rec center hours, or doused streetlights make $2 a month in reduced paycheck taxes seem like a good idea, tell your city councilperson to vote “yes” on a plan to shed Aurora’s head tax.
A few conservative Aurora lawmakers are proposing to ditch the city’s so-called “occupation privilege tax” as a way to free businesses and taxpayers from the oppressive burden of levies and regulations, all for a whopping $24 a year.
Also known as a “head tax,” the decades-long levy — like those in Denver and other nearby cities — charges most people who collect paychecks from an Aurora business $2 a month, and it imposes the same tax on the worker’s employer.
Although it is a proportionately minimal clip, the tax raises about $6 million a year in revenue, which is a relatively small but important part of Aurora’s ever-growing $475 million annual budget.
Despite that, $6 million is a considerable amount of money, and carving it out of the city will have considerable consequences.
It appears that most, or all of the city lawmakers behind this move, have sat on the city’s Citizen Budget Advisory Committee. They should be well aware of how the Aurora budget process works, and how many millions of dollars more the city always needs, not less.
Despite the “less-is-best” conservative philosophy of government, people who live and work in Aurora understand the immediate need for more traffic enforcement, more senior citizen transportation and services, more programs to divert youth from crime and toward better academics, better roads, improved bike lanes, and myriad other things that make a city better for everyone.
It’s doubtful anyone treasures paying their 50 cents a week, or that businesses find joy in adding their monthly $2 and having to do the bookkeeping required to offer the money up.
But in the big picture of hassles and encumbrances for those who work and employ others in the city, the head tax is a hefty nothing-burger.
The biggest problem is where $6 million won’t be spent next year, and each year.
It’s more than alarming for recently elected city lawmakers to keep making proposed spending cuts by the seat of the pants without first determining the apparent and unintended consequences.
Clearly mistaken is the attitude among some city lawmakers that the head tax is offensive because it signals that it is a “privilege” to work or employ others in the city.
“In terms of sending a signal that we want to continue to be the most business-friendly city in the state … we have to, I think, change our mental model and recognize that it’s actually a privilege for us to have employees here, and it’s not a privilege for them to work here,” Councilmember Dustin Zvonek told fellow lawmakers last week when the measure was being discussed.
Residents who live here, and pay hundreds of millions of dollars in property and sales taxes, have every right to expect the government to ensure that the interests of residents always, fairly prevail in decisions made about businesses. Always.
Aurora’s amazing success at attracting and retaining a wide variety of businesses is boosted not by $2 tax gimmicks and puffery, but by ensuring the city is well run, safe and offers quality schools, a variety of affordable homes, reliable roads and infrastructure, reasonable utility costs, a safe environment, dependable water and a stable, credible government.
That costs money, and it requires practiced politics, not populist talk-radio clips.
Killing the city’s head tax will be easy. Responsibly replacing it with raised fees or increased sales taxes, or property levies, a requirement for such a move, will be harder.