FRANCOISE BERGAN: City broadband and banking are no panacea to generate city revenue

At the Sentinel-sponsored City Council candidate forum on Oct. 8, every ward-level challenger (Alison Coombs, Juan Marcano, and Bryan Lindstrom) expressed their support of taxpayer-funded “public enterprises” such as municipal broadband and municipal banks.

To be clear, what they are proposing is that the city gets into businesses that aren’t the job of the city, that it knows nothing about, and that should not be government-controlled.

Let’s look at them individually.

Many small cities and towns are experimenting with municipal broadband today. Less than half of these systems are able to cover their operating expenses, much less turn a profit. Provo, Utah, spent $39 million on public broadband, only to eventually sell to Google for one dollar. In Burlington, Vermont, excessive borrowing resulted in their credit rating being reduced to almost junk bond status. (Bear in mind, Aurora recently reached Moody’s AAA rating – the highest quality and lowest credit risk possible.)

Two candidates pointed to Longmont’s NextLight service as a model, which was introduced during a strong economy to fill a demand in an underserved market. What happens when the economy softens? Is there a need in Aurora not already served with reliable, fast Internet? And when you compare Longmont’s scant 29 square miles to Aurora’s 170 square-mile footprint, it’s easy to see there’s hardly a comparison.

Now, let’s consider municipal banking.

As I mentioned in the forum, municipal banking is not a new idea in America. They have been attempted many times over the last 200 years. All but one have failed. They were always marked by corruption.

Besides, it’s not cheap to start a bank. It would require billions of dollars in start-up capital, which would come directly from the pockets of taxpaying citizens. With the government in control, politics would undoubtedly drive lending decisions to fund pet projects, and direct dollars to a few at the expense of taxpayers. And every dollar we spend on this idea would be a dollar not spent on something else such as road maintenance, water acquisition, and public safety.

The Roosevelt Institute says it plainly on their website, “… municipal banks can advance and realize a broad set of redistributive and environmental objectives.” In other words, it’s about control, cronyism, and expanding government.

We do not know what the Aurora City Council will look like come Nov. 6. What we do know is that it may include council members making risky bets with taxpayer money, if these are their ideas. We also know no major city has embraced municipal banking or municipal broadband.

And when California cities like L.A. and San Francisco turn ideas down, you had better think twice about just how extreme those ideas may be.

Francoise Bergan is the council representative for Aurora’s Ward 6 and running for election.