EDITORIAL: Democrats challenge City for Champions

By: The Gazette editorial
April 27, 2014 Updated: April 29, 2014 at 11:11 am
photo - House Speaker Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, wants to change the law now that Colorado Springs has received tax relief.
House Speaker Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, wants to change the law now that Colorado Springs has received tax relief. 

State government takes more cash from this community than it sends back in the form of state funding. We generally subsidize the rest of the state, and the Legislature's majority seems intent to keep it that way.

The fleecing of Colorado Springs took a minor setback last year when community leaders convinced the Colorado Economic Development Commission to approve a $120 million tax break through the state's Regional Tourism Act. This return of a fraction of state sales taxes, collected only here, would help finance projects known as City for Champions. It's a small victory, relative to the way we subsidize outside interests, but a $120 million recapture is nothing at which to scoff.

House Bill 1350 was proposed as a statement of direct opposition to City for Champions. It was passed Monday by legislators who haven't flinched at tourism tax breaks for Pueblo and Aurora.

Armchair economists in Colorado Springs often seem to confuse their lack of interest in state money as limited-government virtue. So they naturally oppose a return of local tax dollars to fund City for Champions. By opposing state resources, they only help the rest of the state pick our pockets. Disproportionate sums of our money going elsewhere is one reason Colorado Springs hasn't kept pace with Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder.

A few well-meaning City for Champions opponents confuse the money as welfare. They want state government to keep it and control it.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, the author and primary champion of HB1350, shares their philosophy. The Denver legislator's bill would limit the state's future discretion in giving communities tax breaks for projects controlled by locals. The bill passed out of the House Monday, with conservatives resoundingly opposing it. Ferrandino doesn't like local tax relief, he says, because "there is financial benefit for local communities, and that is typically where this tax increment financing is happening." The financial benefit to a community, he explained, comes at the expense of statewide concerns including education.

In other words, he concedes City for Champions benefits the Springs by allowing the community to keep a bit more of its money. Ferrandino would rather the taxes stay with state government for House and Senate majorities to allocate somewhere else.

While tax relief for nonprofit proposals in our community upsets Ferrandino, he did nothing after the state gave the largest subsidy in Colorado history to a massive for-profit hotel development in Aurora. The Regional Tourism Act transaction for Aurora threatens to keep tourists from traveling afield of DIA, thus hurting the Pikes Peak region and other parts of the state.

The Aurora deal created a tax district with a special election that involved one voter who owned the land slated for development. Unlike City for Champions, it was an overtly scandalous Chicago-style scheme. Maybe Ferrandino didn't mind because all four of Aurora's representatives and all three of its senators - including Senate President Morgan Carroll - are members of his party.

The Aurora deal seems to have Carroll in a difficult spot. She told The Gazette only that she's keeping a close eye on HB1350 to make sure it isn't changed in a manner that would give unfair regional advantages. To date, no region stands to benefit more from the Regional Tourism Act than hers, so we hope she's genuinely interested in making things fair.

Massive tax relief to help a for-profit development in a predominantly Democratic community apparently posed no big concern for Ferrandino and others who control the Legislature. Relatively minor relief for community projects in Colorado Springs inspires an overhaul of the tourism act.

Limiting the size and scope of government is a laudable goal, and the sincere mission of most local opponents of City for Champions. It's not achieved by aiding state politicians in an ongoing quest to financially shortchange this region.

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