17 October 2005

Referendums C and D and the Suburbs

The support for Referrendum C, to relax state budget constraints, is decidedly urban in the recent Denver Post poll.

The lead is widening in strongholds such as Denver. In July, Referendum C had 56 percent support; now it has 66 percent. . . .

In July, poll respondents in the north and east suburbs were evenly split at 41 percent on Referendum C. Now, 43 percent support and 46 percent oppose the measure.

In the south and west suburbs, the number of poll respondents planning to vote against Referendum C has risen from 43 percent to 48 percent.

A Rocky Mountain New poll agrees:

• The higher the education level, the more likely a voter is to approve Referendums C and D. Only 20 percent of voters with a high school education support them, while 68 percent of those with post-graduate education support the measures.

"It's one of the biggest, most dramatic differences I've ever seen on a ballot measure in terms of educational levels," Weigel said.

• While 52 percent of whites said they would vote yes, 37 percent of the minorities polled said they would do so.

• The highest level of support is among metro Denver residents, at 56 percent. On the Western Slope, it's 51 percent; Colorado Springs, 44 percent; and on the plains, 30 percent.

• Among Democrats, 62 percent said yes. Republican voters polled 39 percent yes, despite the strong support of GOP Gov. Bill Owens.

• Union households overwhelmingly support Referendum C, and those voters may be part of the "ground game that gets the ballot measures over the hump," Weigel said, adding that union households now generally mean teachers and government workers, not the Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa.

In another article the Rocky has a helpful summary of where the money would go:

30% for K-12 schools: textbooks, libraries, kindergarten and preschool, in-classroom instruction

30% for health care: For elderly, low-income and disabled people, programs to lower health insurance costs for individuals and small businesses

30% for community colleges and state colleges: Need-based financial aid, merit-based financial aid, College Opportunity Fund Program, which gives $2,400 a year directly to students to apply toward tuition costs

10% Repayment of Referendum D bonds, which break down as follows:


Work on 55 projects approved by the Colorado Department of Transportation:

$1.7 billion


Capital funds to repair dilapidated buildings in the poorest school districts. Typically, these funds are matched 2-1 by local districts, which means $220 million in total improvements: $147 million


Improvements and repairs to facilities at university, colleges and community colleges: $50 million


Colorado's share of the state-local match to the pension fund, which the state has deferred for several years because of the budget crunch: $175 million

The rational self-interest theory of voting would seem to be doing a quite poor job of explaining a lack of surbuban support for the issue.

Suburbanites are far more likely than Denver residents to have children attending public schools. Denver has a smaller percentage of families with children, and Denver also has more children who attend private schools ("While Denver's population is about half white, a bit less than 20 percent of DPS students are white.") or have dropped out.

The beneficiaries of higher education funding are far more suburban and upper middle class in their demographics than the general public. For example, the median in-state student who applies for financial aid at CU-Boulder comes from a family with a $65,000 income, and 62% don't apply for financial aid and presumably have higher incomes.

The transportation projects funded by Referrendum D in the metro area are primarily routes by which commuters from the suburbs make their way to work every day, something that residents of Denver proper won't be heavily impacted by in their personal lives, but which intimately effects the lives of suburbanites.

A short fall in the police and firefighter's pension funds, raided by the state legislature during bad years, is going to have to be paid for by taxpayers sooner or later, and it is cheaper to make up the difference now v. later. Thus, it is in the long term interest of the suburbs, which have a larger percentage of residents who pay a significant amount of state income taxes than either the central city or the rural areas, to pay up now, rather than later.

Health insurance cost breaks are a classic suburban issue, and while Medicaid funding primarily benefits the poor, the people impacted at the margins by cuts in Medicaid spending are midddle class providers who often live in the suburbs, and programs that benefit the middle class (like nursing home assistance).

Of course, there is a much simpler explanation. Voters on Referendums C and D are driven by ideology, which run strongly along partisan lines, rather than self-interest. Hence, the more Republican an area of the state is, by and large, the less likely it is to support Referendums C and D. Although high school educated people and minorities, who tend to vote Democratic, are also weak supporters of the referenda, despite the fact they will receive, on average the smallest refunds if the measures pass ($349-$418 over five years).

Perhaps the single biggest challenge for Democrats, across a broad array of domestic issues, is to convince suburbanites, who are overwhelmingly our society's swing voters, to look at the costs and benefits of government spending and taxes in a balanced fashion, rather than simply drinking the anti-tax kool aid. Sometimes taxing and spending is bad, sometimes it is a good idea. It all comes down to where the money is going. Yet, people like Grover "drown it in a bathtub" Norquist, and Doug "TABOR" Bruce, whose efforts are a major forces in opposition to Referrendums C and D, are simply don't make that distinction. The obvious necessity of government action in Hurricane Katrina was supposed to be an object lesson in the fact that maybe, sometimes, we need a strong government. But, this lesson, apparently hasn't yet penetrated the consciousness of much of the Republican rank and file.

Neither, apparently, have fiscal conservatives yet come to terms with the fact that George W. Bush with the assistance of a Republican Congress has increased federal real discretionary spending more than Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program did, and that Reagan substantially increased domestic discretionary spending, while Bill Clinton cut that spending.

Many people who describe themself as fiscal conservatives and social liberals cast their lot with the Republicans (they are the "country club Republicans"), but they are neither, while experience shows that Democrats are both. No tax cut unaccompanied by a spending cut, means anything in the long term. The Piper has to be paid eventually, and if you spend on credit, as Republicans are wont to do, you end up paying interest on that spending as well.

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