PERRY: The road to reality gets bumpy with Aurora Republicans promoting a way to cheat TABOR 

1064
Councilmember Dustin Zvonek speaks to the media and other community members in attendance for a Nov. 30, 2022, press conference at Summer Valley Park, kicking off the Build Up Aurora project, which promises to improves the conditions of the city’s neighborhood streets.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

No need to wait to take a spin on soon-to-be-fixed Aurora roads, desperately in need of repair — city council Republicans are spinning all over the project now.

You see, Aurora is about to pave pot-holes and crumbling streets across the city with $35 million worth of asphalt and concrete.

“With this one-time money, we’re going to be able to get these maintenance needs taken care of,” said Councilmember Dustin Zvonek, who sponsored the Build Up Aurora plan.

Free money?

Actually, not at all. The city is borrowing it, which is how governments have for a very long time gotten anything done.

But in Aurora, like the rest of Colorado, borrowing money to fix roads, build schools and hire cops got impossibly complicated when statewide voters got tricked into voting for the so-called Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights back in 1992.

Like I’ve written before, TABOR was the biggest sham-scam ever pulled on Colorado residents. Sold as a way to keep taxes low, it’s never done that. The total tax burden for Colorado outs the state squarely in the middle of others, just like it has been for decades, even before TABOR.

The idea behind it is so inane that, despite all the righty-tighty extremists running states most of us don’t even want to make eye contact with, not one other state has replicated this bad-news proposition in about 30 years.

TABOR does two things. First, it prohibits elected officials — from the state legislature on down —  from raising taxes or borrowing money without voter approval. It essentially ended representative government as we knew it, and delegates funding cities, the state, schools and even water districts to a committee made up of everyone who votes.

No kidding. Not a single other state in the country will touch this mess. 

Second, and even worse, TABOR caps spending with a ludicrous formula that not only limits expenditures, but it forces them down further after an economic downturn, which is often the reason for TABOR “refunds” and crappy roads.

The result is a state filled with voters who too often don’t have sense enough to raise taxes or spending to pay for paving deteriorating streets.

Former state Sen. Al Meiklejohn — aka “Asphalt Al, the Kiddies’ Pal — a wise Republican legislator from the 1980s who believed strongly in funding roads and schools, once said, “The debt is either in the budget or in the streets.”

Keeping the debt in the streets has been Aurora’s plan on more than one occasion. Not only have local voters turned down critical road-repair ballot questions that asked for just a few dollars a month in new property taxes for most homeowners, they’ve even turned down offers to borrow money and fix roads — with no new taxes.

Part of the dilemma is an ill-informed electorate, but most of the problem is the ridiculously complicated and convoluted language that created TABOR. It forces election officials to produce tortured ballot questions that makes everything sound like a massive tax hike, even when it’s not. 

So what’s a responsible government to do when it needs to spend money on desperately needed improvements but can’t get past TABOR to make it happen?

Cheat.

There’s one way around TABOR that faithful GOP TABOR fans hate, hate, double-hate: Certificates of Participation.

It’s a fancy name for borrowing money without all the bureaucracy — and without voter approval.

For years, right-wing Republicans haven’t just sneered at the voter bypass, they’ve called out mostly Democrat-controlled local governments that have used it.

Until now.

“There is a longstanding provision in our state’s constitution that multi-year debt can’t be issued without a vote of the people,” said Joshua Sharf, senior fellow in fiscal policy at the Independence Institute, a haven for the political far right.

Sharf added that, well, sometimes this workaround can be used “responsibly.”

Well, well well. Not only has the far right softened on ways to get around the dreaded TABOR chaos, but one of Aurora’s far-right lawmakers is bragging about invoking it.

Of course Zvonek isn’t explaining all this to constituents, especially his far-right constituents who worship TABOR as if the dogma was delivered on tablets from the desk of Barry Goldwater and not in a pile of papers from convicted tax-evader Douglas Bruce.

Yes, Aurora desperately needs big, big money for capital improvements for things like fixing the roads. And yes, borrowing $35 million without voter approval is an easy way to get the cash.

But what Zvonek and fans of this idea aren’t making clear is that Aurora isn’t printing $35 million to pay these loans back. The loan payments — or “debt service” as government types like to call it — must come from the city’s existing budget and revenues.

The tax money needed to pay off the $35 million in road loans can’t be spent on stuff like paying police, plowing roads, buying library books and all the tens of thousands of things your tax dollars go toward running the city.

“You’re not going to find many more ardent defenders of TABOR than me,” Zvonek told Sentinel reporter Max Levy when pressed about encouraging a financial scheme that has long been anathema to TABOR devotees. “But I do think certificates of participation can be a smart way for local governments to address capital needs when we don’t necessarily need to go to taxpayers.” 

“Necessarily?”

Zvonek gets no argument from me or most other common-sense watchers of the government.

Love TABOR or not, Zvonek and others have cheated it, and committed Aurora to borrowing $35 million or more and must now pay that money back with interest, from your taxes.

Good for him.

Now that he and other Republicans understand how TABOR has hamstrung governments like Aurora and made it so that the roads literally start falling apart or force the city to close huge swaths of government to pay for fixing streets and little else, the next step is inevitable.

It’s time to let, or even force, elected officials to do what we hire them to do: run the government. To do that, they have to be able to have the temerity and wisdom to know when to raise taxes and borrow money, and when to not.

Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a chorus of Republicans across the state who see how destructive and unyielding TABOR is.

Hopefully Zvonek and other Republicans will do the right thing now and help lead a statewide effort to repeal TABOR so other elected officials don’t have to sneak around it to do the right thing.  

 

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Mastadon, Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]

3 10 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

8 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brent G Taylor
Brent G Taylor
1 month ago

For all the bluster of this article, and the wrong conclusions presented, this boils down to Aurora, which is compelled by law to balance its (you know, 1)not spend what it doesn’t have and 2)get voter approval to get more to spend) budget, reallocating and prioritizing its funds to fix roads instead of wasting money on “all the tens of thousands of things your tax dollars go toward.” For instance, which is the better dollar spent: plowing snow that the sun is going to melt anyway or fixing the road under the snow? Throwing more money at schools to be wasted or fixing the roads to get to the schools? Cultural arts, recreation, pools and parks serving the entitled few or fixing roads we all use?

Last edited 1 month ago by Brent G Taylor
Factory Working Orphan
Factory Working Orphan
1 month ago

“With this one-time money, we’re going to be able to get these maintenance needs taken care of,” said Councilmember Dustin Zvonek, who sponsored the Build Up Aurora plan.

Free money?

Did Zvonek actually say the money was free, or is Perry mischaracterizing what Zvonek said simply because Zvonek isn’t a fellow leftist like the Emerge/DSA claque on the council?

If the state’s roads are a mess, it’s entirely self-inflicted by Colorado voters. They are fully empowered to vote themselves these improvements under TABOR, and have rejected such improvements time after time after time, even as the state became East California and the Front Range in particular became West Cook County in the last 15 years. In 2018, they overwhelmingly rejected TWO bills that would have provided funding for road infrastructure.

If Coloradans aren’t happy with the state of their roads, they can look in the mirror. When your priorities are getting stoned out of your gourds and marinating in campus coffeehouse fantasias, instead of actually maintaining a cornerstone of a stable, functional society, don’t blame a 30-year-old law, or a city councilman trying to actually take care of the problem using a real, actual, long-established means of doing so, for the consequences of your own self-indulgence.

Dennis
Dennis
1 month ago

Dave Perry, If I hadn’t known you as the editor of the Colorado Democrats official Gazette called ‘The Sentinel’, (formerly ‘Aurora Sentinel’) you could have fooled me!

How Convenient, Dave!
You failed to mention the parade of DEMOCRAT SCHEMES that tried to circumvent TABOR ever since its inception! And now you are selectively blaming Republicans for your own delusional agendas to demonize them! (typical).

Just the last election alone, several Leftist (Democrat affiliated) groups attempted to dip into TABOR funds, with a hodgepodge of ballot prepositions! One even disguising as “for the school children’s healthy lunch”! -A TAX HIKE, no matter how you spin it! Which you endorsed, btw, in your Aurora tabloid. (Funny, you disguised it as a “VOTERS GUIDE”!) It’s clearly an Endorsement for your party’s ongoing Juggernaut of Leftist Destructive Agendas! LOL!

So what’s wrong with “Government Spending within their means”? You mocked TABOR as “the biggest Scam-Sham ever pulled on Colorado Residents”! “Sold to us, “Ill-informed” Coloradans! (?!) Really, Dave?

How Condescending! Aren’t we capable of Analytical Thinking? That we Taxpayers deserved to know where our hard-earned money is spent? Not all Coloradans are Democrats you know! -that the plantation masters could easily manipulate! The Majority are not Group Thinkers! Those are concentrated in Boulder and Denver! And your ‘readers’ through your propaganda rag.

Acktchually
Acktchually
1 month ago
Reply to  Dennis

You’re right that the majority of people in Colorado are not “group thinkers”, which is why they slapped MAGA-affiliated/conspiratorial Republicans down across the state. Cope and seethe more.

Factory Working Orphan
Factory Working Orphan
1 month ago
Reply to  Acktchually

If you weren’t “group thinkers,” you wouldn’t repeatedly reject funding for road improvements and then whine that the state’s roads were in horrible condition. Coloradans should try putting down the bong and stop mass shooting each other, and maybe they won’t live in such a urine-soaked behavioral sink.

GeneD
1 month ago
Reply to  Dennis

Capable of analytical thinking? Analytical, with accent on the first syllable, comes to mind when seeing that 48% of Georgia voters thought that they would like to be represented in the US Senate by Republican Herschel Walker!

I wonder whom you and FWO would’ve voted for. I think I have a good idea, as it is always party over country with your ilk.

Factory Working Orphan
Factory Working Orphan
1 month ago
Reply to  GeneD

Gene is all about party over country, just in the other direction.

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
1 month ago

Dave- The issue has zero to do with TABOR.

Street maintenance was not done adequately for two decades—a period that included some of the strongest on record, economy-wise.

The root cause of the deferred maintenance is the city’s chronically weak retail, dining and entertainment— sales tax is the city’s primary source of money.

The real story here: The City of Aurora is financially rudderless.

When a government can’t care for its streets out of its tax revenues, it’s essentially insolvent.