‘Either or’ is the big hurdle on fall ballot

What’s more important: good schools, good roads or well-funded law enforcement?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to choose. Each would have the resources to function at a high level within the existing funding framework.

A robust state economy is generating plenty of tax revenues, but our state government’s labyrinthine budgeting process — complicated by constitutionally mandated spending caps and taxpayer rebates — has consistently come up short allocating resources for roads and schools.
The Legislature appears to be ready to bite the bullet and ask voters to approve a tax hike to fund transportation improvements. The amount of the ask might change depending on whether a separate measure to convert the state’s Hospital Provider Fee to an enterprise fund passes.

But if lawmakers end up putting something on this fall’s ballot, it’s going to cause a lot of heartburn for Mesa County voters. Mesa County commissioners are planning to ask taxpayers for help and School District 51 officials are leaning that direction, too.

Let’s face it. If Denver supports a tax increase for roads, it doesn’t matter what Mesa County voters do. Assuming the state carries a tax hike, Mesa County voters have to decide whether to dig deeper into their pockets to support local needs.

We don’t know yet the specifics of what the county is contemplating. The effort to carve out dedicated funds for law enforcement is being spearheaded by Commissioner Scott McInnis and he’s being purposely opaque. As the Sentinel’s Gary Harmon reported, McInnis is drafting a sales-tax measure himself to prevent the matter from being handled in public.

The wisdom of that approach is a topic for another editorial. But it stands in stark contrast to the open dialogue school board members have been having. They’ve agonized over which capital-improvement projects and operational programs voters are likely to support.  Board members have yet to declare whether they’ll pursue a $126 million bond measure and a $9 million mill levy override this fall, but they’re going to gauge community support this summer.
If they proceed with ballot language, then their wisdom will be questioned. The school board has contemplated a ballot measure since last fall. Members may feel like they don’t want to lose momentum by waiting until 2018, but if the county is committed to fielding a tax question of its own this fall, it puts both efforts in jeopardy.

The county’s ask should be substantially smaller than the school district’s, though we don’t know how either measure will affect individual pocketbooks. Consider that commissioners were caught in a budget bind after allocating an additional $1.8 million for law enforcement in this year’s budget.
Voters have already said no to a sales-tax increase to fund a downtown event center. Part of the rationale was that the people of Mesa County have more pressing needs. Well, here are two of them. But if they’re presented to voters at the same time, it reinforces an “either or” mentality.

We’d like to think that voters would support both requests. The schools and the county would have to collaborate and support each other’s efforts because if voters feel like they have to choose, both measures could go down in flames.


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