Tuesday, October 24, 2006

No on Referred Question 1A - Denver Preschool Program

Councilman Rick Garcia's office was kind enough to email to me the complete text of Council Bill No. 532 (Ordinance) which provides:
For an ordinance increasing the sales and use tax by a rate of .12 percent and dedicating the revenue derived from the tax rate increase to fund the Denver Preschool Program, subject to the approval of the voters at a special municipal election to be conducted in coordination with the state general election on November 7, 2006.
The full text of this misguided legislation is instructive.

It is estimated that at least $12Million will be dedicated to this program, with 5% ($600,000.00) of those monies authorized for "...administrative expenses.." for each year of the program.

Dare I mention that deferred maintenance and improvements to Denver's parks and recreation facilities now totals over $100,000,000.00? But, that's another story.

The guts of 1A consist of establishing an unnamed Colorado non-profit corporation, the "..sole purpose of [which] as reflected in the corporation's articles of incorporation shall be to administer the Denver Preschool Program under contract with the city..."

The corporation's articles of incorporation shall provide for a seven member board of directors. Six members of the board shall be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council. One member of the board shall be a member of the city council appointed by the city council.
Okay, so far? With me? Let's go on (as if the prospect of seven political appointments by the mayor and one city council person constituting the board of directors doesn't rub a wee bit the wrong way):

The corporation's articles of incorporation shall provide for a twenty-five member board of advisors to make non-binding recommendations to the board on policy issues regarding early childhood education in general and the administration of the Denver Preschool progarm in particular. Members of the board of advisors shall be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council.
It just gets better... Yeah, I know, thirty-two political appointees running a program with $12Million in sales tax revenue--the major trough from which Denver's General Fund feeds--is not only a little scary, but absurd, given what the City and County of Denver (as a municipal entity) was established to do. And, it wasn't set-up to run a preschool program. Isn't that the job of the Denver School Board?

Here's a few of the objectives this political boondoggle is slated to achieve:

*Tuition Credits [Vouchers???]
*Outreach to parents and assistance with enrollment in preschools...
*Technical assistance and direct grants to preschool providers...
*Contracting with qualified experts to design and assist with the implementation of a quality improvement system for preschools...
*Measurement of the performance of the said program...
The "Contracting with qualified experts to design and assist..." is troublesome because there is language in the ordinance that states: "The term 'administrative expenses' shall not be deemed to include any fees or expenses paid to third-party contractors or consultants to assist in the development or administration of the Denver Preschool Program." Um, then where is that money going to come from? And, isn't the explicit prohibition against such "third-party" expenditures in direct conflict with the "Contracting with qualified experts..." language?

What is called "tuition credits" in the ordinance would apply to "Any Denver resident who is a parent or legal guardian of any preschool-aged child who is also a Denver resident..."

Forgive me, but let me interject a PI moment here. The language says "resident" not "citizen."

Now, these "tuition credits" are not really nailed down in the ordinance. The ordinance speaks to a "...sliding scale..." related to both family income and the "...quality of the preschool provider..." But, here's the politics again: On both the "...sliding scale..." portions of the ordinance, there's a little qualification to that language that provides, "...this sliding scale [will] be more specifically determined by the board of directors."

So, who knows? How much we talkin' about here? The ordinance leaves it wide open, with the decision left in the hands of the mayor's political appointees to the board.

Lastly, the ordinance leaves it up to the parent or guardian to determine where they're going to enroll their little tikes for preschool. Yes, the preschool has to be licensed under the State of Colorado, but if the parent or guardian wants to take little Johnny to Brother Bob's Baptist Temple or Sister Mary Jo's Catholic Catechism, well, that's just fine. Indeed, if the parent or guardian wants to take the kids to a preschool in Arvada or Commerce City or Lakewood or Broomfield, that's fine, too. No restrictions on where Denver's sales tax revenue is spent.

Reading through Council Bill 532 (which, if Referred Question 1A is passed will become the basis for this preschool program) gives one the distinct impression that a whole lot of folks, including the mayor and all but one city councilperson (Jeanne Faatz) instructed the city attorney who wrote the thing to be as vague as possible because they really don't know what the hell the program is going to turn out to be and the hell with the details; they'll work on the details later.

Well, the devil is in the details and Council Bill 532 is sorely lacking in detail. And, please, do you really want to depend on mayoral appointees to fill in the blanks on this expenditure of $12Million?

Referred Question 1A was not ready to be put on the ballot. It should not be on the ballot. And, I don't trust this open-ended (design/build) concept being thrust on the voters with the implied mantra: Just trust us (the politicians) to do the right thing. I want to know exactly what I'm voting on before I vote. Referred Question 1A fails this simple test.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, George, for posting the details. It's interesting stuff and quite byzantine. "Resident" vs. "Citizen"--very telling and not by accident. Fortunately, it's all moot. Both dailies have come out against it. It has less than a one percent chance of passing. But, it has served a purpose: We now have an equation for calculating total sales subject to sales tax. If 1.2% generates 12 million.....

George said...

Actually, Anon, it's .12%. Denver’s sales tax is now 3.5%. The increase would be to 3.62%, thus bringing Denver's total sales tax to 7.72%.