12 July 2006

Hickenlooper's State of the City Address 2006

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, one of the most popular politician in all of Colorado, will deliver his state of the city address today (available here later today; prior state of the city and inauguration speech available here).

The leaked highlights will be a "Greenprint" for Denver (i.e. an environmental blueprint) and a proposal to raise sales taxes 1.2 cents on every $10 purchase to increase pre-school funding in the city by about $12,000,000, perhaps as soon as the crowded November 2006 ballot.

According to the City's website:

The goals of the Denver Preschool Program are to maximize access to and participation in quality pre-school programs for all four-year-old children in the City and County of Denver and to support quality improvement of preschool programs available to those children.

It would use outreach and means tested tuition credits to make it happen. Hickenlooper's own son, Teddy, is just finishing his pre-school years.

Governor Owens vetoed two similar proposals passed by the General Assembly in the 2006 legislative session, H.B. 1005 which would have authorized school districts to impose local property taxes after voter approval to pay for full day kindergarten, and H.B. 1397, which would have created Early Childhood Councils statewide. By utilizing Denver's home rule powers, and going outside the jurisdiction of the school district K-12 system by providing pre-school programs instead, Hickenlooper avoids the need to secure state level approval to offer the program.

Indeed, this development is symptomic of the effect of TABOR more widely. Just as federal budget cuts force state and local governments to step in to provide services no longer provided at the federal level, when the state government is crunched by TABOR or the reluctance of officials like Governor Owens to expand state spending, the result, as often as not, is for local officials to step in and fill the need with local tax dollars. If a service is needed, the question is often not, will taxes be raised to pay for it, but where will taxes be raised to pay for it? In the case of pre-school education, insufficient federal and state funding of pre-school education, and a de facto ban on school district funding for that purpose, has spurred the city government to step in, and if it works in Denver, the program will probably be widely copied elsewhere.

While the Mayor has made progress on many points, balancing a budget deep in the red, developing a plan to address homelessness, independent police review, the size of the police force, a justice center, 3-1-1 service, a settlement of the United Airlines bankruptcy debts to DIA, paving alleys, rethinking parking enforcement, an overhaul of zoning rules, a new franchise agreement with Xcel Energy that goes to voters on August 8, and more, at least one thorn remains in the side of Hickenlooper's agenda - business permits.

In his 2004 state of the city address Hickenlooper said:

We are streamlining our permitting processes. When complete and this will take some time some developers will choose Denver, not just for the market opportunities, but for the savings achieved through our efficienprocessss. We will review plans with all essential people at the same time, rather than in lengthy procession. We will limit the changes the City can make after the review process, except in circumstances involving risks to health and safety. And we will cross-train our staff, creating efficiencies in time and resources from plan reviews to inspections.

We will continue to support small businesses. We have streamlined the certification process for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, so that a single application is recognized by both the City and the State. We will create a one-stop small business assistance center, in partnership with the Small Business Administration and the State, where small businesses can find the support they need. I want to particularly thank the Governor, and his staff, for their partnership on both of these initiatives.

A new building code is in place, but two years later, this mission still isn't accomplished. The building inspection department, for example, states that:

The rate of building permit applications being logged in for review is steadily increasing. This, coupled with a tremendous backlog of permit applications has seriously strained the department's review staff.

It's internal objectives call for processing 75% of business permit applications in a month to a month and a half of city time, in addition to time between stages that require action from the applicant, and of course, this means that even when the goals are met, a quarter of all applications take longer, sometimes much longer.

One stop shopping is still more pipedream than reality as well.

Delays in permitting new business often take months and can cost them thousands of dollars of month in lost profits, interest on business loans, and cost somebody, either a landlord or a new business, months of lost revenues in spaces left empty until a permit arrives, yet businesses like the downtown Perk and Pub and a restaurant planned on Sante Fe near the I-25 exit, have collapsed in he face not of permit denials, but permit delays, and other have been delayed for months before eventually getting permission to open.

H.B. 1009, just passed by the General Assembly in the special session to address immigration issues and takes effect on January 1, 2007, which will require citizenship checks of new business permits, promises to only make the matter worse, not so much because many applicants can't present a driver's license or state ID that appears on its face to be valid, but because the entire permit process and all associated forms must be revised to reflect this new requirement.

Cross Posted at Colorado Confidential.

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