Coming up next: three local tax questions

Coming up next: three local tax questions

“Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never a convenient time for any of them.”

— Margaret Mitchell

We’ll soon see how far we’ve come as a community…whether the public safety tax and school bond and override successes last fall marked a welcome change in attitudes or were only a temporary aberration.

County residents will likely face in November a ballot question asking if the Mesa County can exclude state grants from revenue limits in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). In Grand Junction, voters will likely get two bites at the apple — one a proposal in November to double the city’s lodging tax and another next April to increase the sales tax to fund construction and operation of a community recreation center.

Two of the three, the ones soonest on our ballots, fall easily into the category of “no-brainers” while the third, the community center proposal, will likely generate heated back and forth between now and the city election in April.

It makes no sense, all three county commissioners argued in a public session last week, for Mesa County to not be able to accept state and federal grants for infrastructure and other purposes without busting the TABOR revenue cap but to instead have to turn down such things as a $5 million award for Mind Springs. Ironically, some grants not applied for come from federal severance taxes which flow back through the state and become subject to TABOR when passed on to local governments.

In simpler terms, that means some severance taxes generated right here go to other localities where the TABOR limitations aren’t a factor, either because revenues don’t approach the cap or because voters have exempted those local governments.

Proponents of increasing the lodging tax from 3 percent to 6 percent have headlined their campaign “The Tax You Don’t Pay.” That’s the same rallying cry some of us used 30 years ago in first proposing the levy on hotel stays that has since funded well-demonstrated success promoting recreational and business-related tourism.

This proposal, endorsed last week by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, would raise an additional $1.5 million to be divided three ways: for additional tourism promotion by Visit Grand Junction (formerly the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau), to fund efforts by the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission to attract additional revenue-generating sports-oriented tournaments and exhibitions, and to the Grand Junction Regional Air Service Alliance for seeking additional direct flights to and from our regional airport.

Then there’s what’s commonly known as the rec center proposal advanced by PLACE, People for Local Activities and Community Enrichment. It would increase Grand Junction’s sales tax one-third of a cent, raising $50 million to build a center at Matchett Park, kick-starting development of that city-owned park site, and also renovate the Orchard Mesa Pool into a satellite community center.

That plan, which grew out of a collaboratively-funded community process, would provide much more than fitness facilities. It would enhance year-round aquatics, provide community gathering and learning areas, gymnasiums and family changing and child care facilities.

Council members are scheduled to discuss the ballot issue again in mid-August. What they might actually propose is anyone’s guess. While there was informal agreement to put the question to voters, whether a majority of council members will support any proposal is an open question based upon comments at last week’s workshop. My initial read after attending the session is that it could be 4-3 either way, depending on the language of the ballot issue.

PLACE may be best served by petitioning exactly what they want onto the ballot. That would galvanize enthusiasm already shown, support virtually certain to garner the necessary signatures. It would also help create momentum for the April 2019 ballot. And it would create a vehicle for expanding initial efforts into the sort of campaign organization that’ll be necessary for success in the same manner folks rallied around the District 51 issues.

A divided City Council could then sidestep protracted argument over inclusion of fitness facilities and, as an earlier council did with the city’s Watershed Protection Ordinance, accept the citizen-generated language. This option would also avoid overreach from including additional Matchett Park or other infrastructure projects.

“People hate taxes the same way children hate brushing their teeth … and in the same shortsighted way.”

— Paul A. Samuelson, Nobel laureate in economics

Jim Spehar’s had mixed experiences dealing with tax and revenue matters while in local office. Comments to speharjim@gmail.com.

https://www.gjsentinel.com/opinion/columns/coming-up-next-three-local-tax-questions/article_6d08699e-8f4f-11e8-b01f-10604b9f1ff4.html

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