Ballots are just starting to arrive at people's homes in Denver, Colorado this week for the 2021 general election, for which ballots must be returned by November 2, 2021.
Your ballot can be mailed back if you complete it soon enough and pay for postage, or it can be dropped at any of numerous, conveniently located Denver ballot drop boxes around the City for free at any time before the end of the day on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.
The ballot in Denver will have three statewide ballot issues and thirteen City and County ballot issues.
The ballot in Denver will also have four Denver Public Schools school board elections which make up about half of the DPS school board: an "at large" director election with five candidates seeking one seat, and DPS School Board district director elections in three Districts (Districts 2, 3 and 4 with two, two and four candidates running in each respectively). I personally only vote in the "at large" race because my district had a vote for school board director for a four year term two years ago when the other half of the current DPS school board was elected. My analysis of the Denver Public Schools school board races will be saved for another possible future post.
Any given voter in Denver will thus have either seventeen or eighteen decisions to make on their ballot. Long ballots like these, even in off years, are a systemic problem with Colorado's political system that should be reformed. But that is a matter for another day in another post.
This is based largely on official voter information pamphlets for the measures and casual awareness of local news coverage of the issues. If you want a second opinion you have review a Denver Post voter's guide on the same issues.
If you are in a rush, and you trust me, here are my recommendations on the sixteen ballot issues voters have to consider in the City and County of Denver, Colorado this year.
Vote No on all three state ballot issues (Amendment 78, Proposition 119 and Proposition 120).
Vote No on the following six local Denver ballot issues:
2E, 2F, 300, 302, 303 and 304.
Vote Yes on the following seven local Denver ballot issues:
2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 2G, 2H, and 301.
State Ballot Issues
Amendment 78 would require the approval of the state legislature, following a public hearing, to spend state money that comes from sources other than legislative appropriations, like lawsuit settlement proceeds and certain federal grants. It is a response to conservative dissatisfaction with the fact the Governor Polis, a Democrat, was able to decide how to spend emergency COVID grants from the federal government.
You should vote No on Amendment 78, a change to the state constitution.
The reality is that these kinds of funds may not be available at all unless the executive branch can actively negotiate where they will be going (e.g. class action lawsuit settlements earmarked for particular purposes), or need to be spent quickly (e.g. disaster and pandemic relief funds) to have the desired effect. Colorado's legislature is in session for only four months each year, so in order to get quick action, the wait to spend emergency funds could easily be as much as nine to ten months, unless an expensive special session of the legislature is called for what is usually, relative to the size of the state budget, a fairly small amount of money.
The reason for voter input in TABOR ballot issues is to give the public a say on spending that they are paying for, this justification isn't present, however, for Amendment 78 funds.
This initiative would increase retail marijuana sales taxes from 15% to 20% (phased in over three years) raising an estimated $137.6 million to fund grants for tutoring and other after school education programs in a way independently of existing school boards and higher educational programs. The priority for the programs would be for lower income families.
You should vote No on Proposition 119.
Like most complex ballot issues, it isn't very well drafted or thought out, relative to comparable initiative of the state legislature.
This is a major new regressive tax the strengthens the incentive to move marijuana to the black market. It creates a new bureaucracy independent of the State Board of Education and Colorado Department of Education to run this program rather than working with existing educators. It doesn't have a clear focus or buy-in from educations whom it is supposed to support. While supporting kids learning is a worthy cause, this leaves open lots of room for dubious programs when other public needs are more worthy of taxpayer financed spending.
The state legislature temporary reduced for 2022 and 2023, real property tax rates by 9% on all forms of real estate covered by Proposition 120 except multifamily apartment buildings and hotels.
Proposition 120 would make those reductions permanent and would also lower property taxes by 9% on multifamily apartment buildings and hotels.
Proposition 120 would significantly and permanently reduce funding for public schools and would also significantly reduce revenue for public schools, only some of which wouldn't be restored by state funding. It would also reduce the availability of homestead property tax exemptions for senior citizens and disabled veterans. The reduction would be about $46 million statewide in 2022, about $50 million in 2023, and more in subsequent years.
The ballot language doesn't reflect the impact of significantly changed state laws since it was proposed.
Denver Ballot Issues
Issues 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D and 2E
Denver ballot issues 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D and 2E are requests from the City and County of Denver government seek voter permission to issue new municipal bonds, financed with existing taxes, to replace prior municipal bonds that have been paid off, for particular major capital expenditures broken into five subcategories (A-E). Some of these expenditures are for repairs and renovations of existing infrastructure. Some are for new projects.
In substance, the City is asking voters if they favor the major spending commitment that each of the five measures calls for on the merits as a good or a bad way to spend money.
Issue 2A would devote $104 million to capital expenditures on various cultural facilities in the City.
Issue 2B would devote $39 million to capital expenditures on homeless shelters.
Issue 2C would devote $63 million to capital expenditures for pedestrian and bicycle transportation infrastructure and to improving a Morrison Corridor Art District in West Denver.
Issue 2D would devote $54 million to capital expenditures for park and recreation facilities.
Issue 2E would devote $190 million to a major expansion and overhaul of the National Western Stock Show Complex in North Denver (basically the "county fair grounds" for the City and County of Denver).
Vote Yes on Denver ballot issues 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D because the amount of spending on these capital improvements are things that the City needs.
Vote No on Denver ballot issue 2E because the very large amount of money that the City proposed to devote to a major expansion and overhaul of the National Western Stock Show complex isn't consistent with the City's needs.
Issue 2F is a proposal to repeal the Group Living Ordinance recently adopted Denver's City Council.
This would substantially reduce the number of unrelated people who can live in various kinds of housing (disallowing homes where roommates rent rooms in a larger home in many cases) and would also greatly restrict the geographic areas where nursing homes, group homes for foster children, women's shelters, and other kinds of temporary housing can be located.
Vote No on Denver ballot issue 2F which would make housing less affordable and increase homelessness in Denver. The fears stoked by its opponents that higher population density in neighborhoods destroys those neighborhoods are absurdly exaggerated.
The City has an Independent Monitor's Office to review misconduct allegations directed at Denver's law enforcement agencies, but it doesn't have enough authority to be effective. For example, it doesn't have the authority to hire lawyers to analyze claims of police misconduct. Issue 2G would give the Independent Monitor's Office the authority it needs, such as the authority to hire lawyers and experts, to more effectively carry out its mission of monitoring Denver's law enforcement agencies.
Vote Yes on Denver ballot issue 2G.
Denver's City Charter contains timelines for municipal elections which violate state and federal laws related to military and overseas voting. Issue 2H would bring the Denver City Charter in compliance with state and federal law by moving its municipal election date a month earlier from May to April. If Issue 2H isn't passed, a court would probably order Denver to change its election date anyway.
This is basically an uncontroversial "housekeeping" amendment to the City Charter, although it also has the side effect of making it much easier to college students to vote in municipal elections.
Vote Yes on Denver ballot issue 2H.
Issue 300 would impose a 1.5% sales tax on retail marijuana sales, in addition to existing marijuana retail sales taxes which are 10.3% now in Denver. It would use the money raised (about $7 million per year) to fund non-medicinal COVID countermeasures research (e.g. research on the effectiveness of masks and social distancing) which is already being done by other public and private agencies with public health responsibilities.
This ballot issue is ill-conceived. It supports funding for programs that Denver is ill-suited to conduct and isn't supported by the proposed grant recipients. Others are already doing the same research this issue authorizes funding with better protocols associated with being in the public health research business, so the results will be obsolete if the research is conducted. It is also a regressive tax and proposes spending on purposes that aren't as great a priority for tax funding as other more urgent needs.
Issues 301 and 302
These issues are related to the future use of the former Park Hill Golf Course. The City of Denver was recently given a conservation easement when the golf course (owned by a private non-profit) was closed that was intended to preserve the use of the course for open space and parks. But the conservation easement had an unintended loophole that allows the City to authorize real estate development on the former Park Hill Golf Course instead (with a significant share of affordable housing) and the City is poised to allow that now.
Issue 301 would require a citywide ballot issue to approve discontinuing the Park Hill Golf Course conservation easement, and also requiring a vote of the people to discontinue any other conservation easements or develop municipal parks in the future.
Issue 302 would allow the former Park Hill Golf Course to be redeveloped, would allow other property with flawed conservation easements in favor of the City to be redeveloped in the future, and would require a vote of the people to discontinue well drafted conservation easements or develop municipal parks in the future.
Issue 302 was proposed by the real estate developers seeking to redevelop Park Hill Golf Course as a "dirty trick" to confuse voters into thinking that they were protecting parks and open space when they are really authorizing real estate development on the Park Hill Golf Course despite the intent of the conservation easement that was granted to the City to disallow that use.
While I recognize the City's urgent need for new affordable housing developments, the City's conduct in brazenly abrogating what was intended to be a conservation easement that prohibited that which it recently was given in good faith, and the dirty tricks used by the developers in proposing Issue 302 make the right choice more clear.
Vote Yes on Issue 301. Vote No on Issue 302.
Issue 303 directs the City to vigorously enforce the City's controversial anti-homeless person camping ban, deputizes private individuals to do so if the City doesn't act in just a couple of days or so, and prohibits the City from establishing more than four authorized camping locations in the City for homeless people which must meet fairly high standards for public facilities on site if it does so.
Basically, Issue 303 seeks to punish people harshly for being homeless and occupying public property as a result, even if the City wants to do so, or wants to establish interim solutions like designating City owner property that isn't fully developed as a long term RV park type facility.
It was proposed by the chair of the Denver County GOP.
Vote No on Issue 303.
Issue 304 permanently reduces Denver's sales tax rate from 4.81% to 4.5% for ordinary retail sales. The ballot issue is ambiguously worded so it isn't clear if it would also reduce the City's short term car rental sales tax rate of 7.25%, the City's 10.31% sale tax on retail marijuana sales, or if it would increase the City's 4.0% sales tax rate on non-grocery store food and beverages.
It would reduce the City's tax revenues by an estimated $48 million to $55 million per year, without providing an alternative revenue source, which would force dramatic cuts in essential municipal services and functions.
Modestly reducing Denver sales tax rates and creating a legal nightmare to figure out what the poorly worded ballot issue really means, in order to cripple the function of the City and County of Denver's government is not good policy.
It was proposed by the chair of the Denver County GOP.
Vote No on Issue 304.