Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Forget 1A (Preschool Referred Question) And Get Back To The Basics

The Rocky Mountain News this morning opined: (This verbatim, as the piece will probably shortly be archived)

Preschool tax diverts city from core duties

November 1, 2006

Over the next several years - and likely starting as early as 2007 - Denver voters are going to be presented with huge bills for repairing and upgrading the city's infrastructure.

From Civic Center Park, which has been growing shabbier and shabbier as the years pass, to potholed streets, to rapidly growing new neighborhoods that need libraries, the evidence is everywhere that the city scarcely has the resources to meet its core responsibilities.

Yet on Election Day, Denver is asking voters to pass Initiative 1A, which would raise the sales tax so the city can take on the additional responsibility of making sure more 4-year-olds have access to preschool. There's nothing wrong with that as a goal, although the purported benefits have been overhyped. But city government has never been in the education business. And if Denver can't handle the responsibilities it already has, it shouldn't be taking on more.

The Hickenlooper administration has established a number of task forces to examine the city's needs in such areas as public safety, cultural facilities, community planning, upkeep of city buildings, parks and transportation. It's a daunting list - even before the price tags are attached. For instance, the Museum of Nature and Science needs work on "fire detection and suppression systems, electrical wiring, elevators, sewer lines, public address system, kitchen improvements, lobby expansion and conservation facilities," one task force believes. Sounds comprehensive, doesn't it? Expensive, too. And that's only one of dozens of projects, large and small.

When architect Daniel Libeskind was in Denver to present his concept for Civic Center Park, someone asked Mayor John Hickenlooper what it would cost. Maybe $100 million, he said. On another occasion, he gave an estimate of $50 million to replace the aging and ineffective irrigation system in the city's parks.

With numbers like that, pretty soon you're talking about real money. Former Councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt believes the total could be $1 billion or more.

Current Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, one of the few city officials willing to say in public that Denver shouldn't be tackling preschool, says it will probably be a lot more than $1 billion. She believes voters should have been informed about "what's coming down the pike" before they were asked to decide on the preschool tax.

In isolation, better access to preschool may sound like a decent idea. But in the context of all the city's core responsibilities that aren't being fully met, the measure doesn't make sense.

Vote "No" on 1A.

Prior posts on this matter: Here and here.

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