EDITOR’S NOTE: As ballots arrive throughout Colorado, we encourage all those who are informed, registered and of a kind and compassionate heart and mind to vote in the Nov. 2 election. Below, the Gazette editorial board presents recommendations on how to vote based on our research and discussions among ourselves and with a diverse variety of community leaders. We offer these endorsements as a voting aid and encourage prospective voters to include a variety of resources in their decisions. As always, The Gazette strives to favor candidates and ballot measures that promise to improve our economy, quality of life, public safety, transportation, education, and family-friendly, business-friendly environment. Thanks for considering our suggestions, and enjoy the privilege of voting!
Yes on 2C, 2D and 1A
Parks might be the best social program a community invests in. Without the civilized sanctuary of Central Park, New York would be an intolerable concrete jungle. Sans Hong Kong Park, the Pearl of the Orient would be another towering forest of concrete, glass and steel. Then there’s what should be known as America’s Park, the city-owned Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.
Maintaining a high quality of livability in any city requires easily accessible, well-maintained parks that allow people to escape the daily grind in the residential and commercial spaces they occupy most of the time. Parks contribute to improvements in the general public’s mental and physical health.
We can think of no downside to parks acquired legally, fairly, and in a strategic manner that makes recreational space available to neighborhoods that represent the economic gambit. The greatest cities and towns obtain and maintain the greatest park systems.
Since Mayor John Suthers was a child, Colorado Springs has transitioned from a small town of 45,000 to the country’s 39th largest city with a population of nearly 500,000. Colorado Springs also ranks among the country’s most desirable destinations for new residents and visitors, with the community’s hotels scoring the country’s second-highest occupancy rate this summer. Parks are a major part of the region’s appeal, as they give visitors and residents spaces in which to ponder and enjoy some of nature’s finest scenery and most enjoyable weather.
A community’s quality of life and desirability requires well-maintained parks, but it also requires a workable economy that is not suffocated by taxes. For that reason, The Gazette’s editorial board clings to skepticism any time a politician lobbies the public for a tax increase. In most cases, local, county, state, and federal agencies have more money than they need, even though politicians and government bureaucrats typically think they could use more. Often, as seen with the recent District 11 School District tax hike, public entities perform worse when given more money.
We cannot compare Colorado Springs city government to a poorly run school district. The city is at least 10 years past the era of municipal dysfunction that became the city’s de facto brand under the old city manager-council government. Thanks to the leadership of former Mayor Steve Bach, and Mayor John Suthers, Colorado Springs has emerged as the gold standard in municipal success. Culturally, artistically, socially, and economically, Olympic City USA has gone from “good to great,” if we may borrow a phrase from bestselling Colorado author Jim Collins.
Maintaining this enviable trajectory requires work, vision, trust and investment. We have made tremendous progress improving cratered roads and are building what will be seen as the finest stormwater drainage system in the state, after letting it get so bad the state, federal, and city of Pueblo governments successfully sued us. As other cities “defund the police,” we are investing, hiring, and operating the city’s largest-ever police academy.
Having addressed the three most pressing needs neglected under the old city government, it is time to focus more on parks. Without a world-class park system, we will not be a world-class city.
As explained by Suthers in today’s Perspective section, voters approved the Trails, Open Space and Parks program (TOPS) 24 years ago. Since then, the city has gained an additional 100,000 residents. Weighing the feedback received in 24 years, The Gazette has not heard from many readers who regret the investment in trails, open space and parks.
In fact, we can easily say our pro-parks feedback outpaces the negative by about 10-to-1. Throughout the ongoing COVID pandemic, parks have been a godsend for residents needing to escape voluntary or mandatory confinement at home.
Colorado Springs Issue 2C would extend the TOPS program for 20 years. It would raise the tax from 0.1% (1 cent on every $10 purchase) to 0.2% (2 cents on every $10 purchase). The tax would generate an additional $11 million annually. With the added penny on each $10 in commerce, the city would have $22 million each year for acquisition, development and maintenance of open space, trails and parks.
In addition to parks, a city’s economy and tax burden calculate heavily into a community’s strength. A thriving economy — one in which most people have good work, homes, health care, shelter and food — requires more than good public safety, infrastructure and parks. It also requires a tax formula that maximizes what the private sector keeps while providing local government enough to support the private-sector activities and entities that define their lives. It is a delicate balance.
If voters agree to the 0.1% tax increase, they will continue living in one of the most tax-friendly big cities in the United States. As Suthers reminds us, Colorado Springs has a per capita tax burden of $730. That compares to the average per capita tax of $2,600 in the rest of the country’s 100 largest cities. No wonder people move here in droves.
Let’s make this great city even better. Vote “yes” on Issue 2C to expand and improve our parks.
Colorado Springs Issue 2D presents voters with another simple investment opportunity that’s virtually pain-free. Because of our flourishing economy statewide and locally — an economy that seems almost resistant to the plague — taxpayers are due a 2021 tax refund of about $30 million. Issue 2D asks voters — politely, we might add — if the city government may keep $20 million to create a permanent citywide Wildfire Mitigation and Prevention Fund. The Colorado Springs Fire Department would manage the interest-bearing fund.
Most Colorado residents who remember the Waldo Canyon fire of 2012 know how fast our forests can ignite and destroy homes and lives in the massive forest-urban interface that runs north and south along the Front Range. We should never forget Waldo, the Black Forest fire, or any of the other massive fires that have destroyed property and killed humans and wildlife throughout the region and state. Neglecting this risk is the definition of penny-wise, pound foolish. Vote “yes” on 2C to save property and lives.
El Paso County Issue 1A, like the city’s 2C, asks voters — just as politely, we might add — to keep $15 million in tax refunds to pay for dedicated roadway improvements and parks projects. Again, this is not a tax increase. It is an opportunity for the public to invest in ongoing upgrades to transportation assets and parks we all need, use and enjoy.
School district races
In the city’s three major public school districts, we encourage voters to support candidates who put children first and support equal educational opportunities for the rich, the poor, and all those in between.
Vote for: Sandra Bankes, Lauren Nelson, Al Loma
Vote for: Ivy Liu, Lori Thompson, Jamilynn D’Avola
Vote for: Tom LaValley, Aaron Salt, Nicole Konz
For more information on candidates, see our editorial of Sept. 29 titled “Vote to put our kids first.”
Amendment 78: Vote “yes.” This requires legislative oversight and approval before state officials spend federal grants or any other money given to the state. For more information, see our editorial of Oct. 11, titled “Vote ‘yes’ on 78 to end sleazy slush funds.”
Proposition 119: Vote “yes.” This would increase the recreational marijuana tax to fund tutoring and other out-of-school enrichment and instruction. This would convert revenue from vice and use it to improve educational outcomes for children. For more information, see our editorial of Sept. 29 titled “Don’t let pot peddlers trump Colorado’s kids.”
Proposition 120: Vote “yes.” This would lower property tax assessment rates for multifamily housing and lodging properties. For more information, see our editorial of Sept. 29 titled “Yes on 120 — cut taxes and defy politicians.”
The Gazette Editorial Board