The El Paso County November Election Ballot Notice is in Your Mailbox!

Did you know that the Public Safety Sales Tax (PST) is really a Corporate Welfare Tax (CWT)? It didn’t necessarily start out that way, but that’s what it has become. So when the El Paso County Board of Commissioners (BoCC) asks you to extend it, what they really want is for you to keep the Corporate Welfare gravy train rolling so they can reap the campaign donations from the developers who benefit from your taxes.

Background

The original PST was passed by ballot measure in 2012, and at the time, it made sense and was well-intentioned. The economy nationwide had tanked thanks to the destructive policies of former President Obama. El Paso County wasn’t spared the financial assault. Homes went up for foreclosure, businesses laid off workers, and others simply shuttered their doors and closed. As a result, the general fund coffers shrunk.

At the same time, the former Sheriff identified a growing threat environment that demanded more manpower. He was right about the threat, and he was justified in requesting more money to beef up the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

Since there was insufficient revenue in the general fund to cover the Sheriff’s needs, the PST was devised as the solution. But it was never meant to be permanent, hence its eight-year shelf life.

It is important to note that during the former Sheriff’s tenure, the PST was put to good use. He increased manpower in the jail and patrol, and he provided detailed budget reports as the ballot initiative required.

This stands in stark contrast to Sheriff Bill Elder who has presided over double-digit attrition, heavy losses of manpower, dangerously low manning levels in detention and patrol, and who has failed to produce a single detailed budget report as required.

Since the time the PST was passed, the economy rebounded, the general fund coffers filled up again, and the County is more than capable of funding the entire EPSO budget with general fund money. This is how tens of thousands of municipalities across the country do it everyday. El Paso County does not need to rely on the PST to cover any shortfall.

Layer on top of that the fact that in nearly every year of the PST’s existence the EPSO has finished the year with a SURPLUS of PST cash. It would seem the PST is no longer necessary.

It’s hard to take seriously the BoCC’s and Sheriff’s claims that the PST is necessary when they don’t spend all the money they currently receive from the PST and end most years with excess revenue (a SURPLUS they fail to refund to the taxpayers as required by law under TABOR).

Two Schemes, One Result: MORE of Your Hard-Earned Cash

It is important the taxpayers know that the BoCC concocted two schemes to keep the PST alive. Yes, two schemes.

One idea was to simply make the tax permanent. The other is the option that appears on the November 2018 ballot to extend it for 10 years from 2018 to the year 2028, essentially an 8-year appendix to the current tax. The fact that the BoCC had considered asking taxpayers to make the tax permanent should send a chill down the spine of every fiscal conservative in the county. But a permanent tax is their real desire and their real intent. Make no mistake about that.

The extension is an inconvenience to the Commissioners, but they are willing to take the temporary solution now and try again to make it permanent once it is about to expire in ten years. The idea is to continue to renew it in 8- or 10-year increments into perpetuity, a de facto permanent tax for as long as they can get away with fleecing you out of your money.

Why? Two reasons. One, despite calling themselves conservative Republicans, our County Commissioners are big government, tax-and-spend liberals. As is typical of liberal politicians, they campaigned from the right only to govern from the left.

Second, they need the PST to offset the shell game they are playing with YOUR money, moving general fund revenue to the wealthiest developers in our community as a form of Corporate Welfare. That is the subject of this post, and I’ll delve more into it in a moment, but first, a word about this so-called ‘extension.’

Ballot Question Language is Deceptive: It IS a New Tax

The BoCC carefully crafted County Question 1A to avoid calling it a new tax because to do so would trigger mandatory language requirements under TABOR. In short, they would have to tell you clearly and plainly that they are raising your taxes. They didn’t want to do that because they know it would be almost impossible to sell you on a new tax.

So, they had to be deceptive. Intentional, callous, cold, cynical deception. That they went through tortured logic and word parsing gyrations to avoid calling it a new tax in order to fool the voters should be reason enough not to vote for it, and, frankly, not to trust them on any issue in the future.

The reason it’s a new tax is simple: it’s not the same tax that you graciously approved in 2012. The Commissioners have expanded the purposes for which PST money may be spent, making it a wholly new tax in intent and substance.

It is equally important to note that the BoCC did NOT consider a third option: fully funding the EPSO via the general fund (like virtually every other municipality in the country) and allowing the PST to expire on schedule. They were determined to keep the money flowing despite the fact that:

  • It has not resulted in more manpower in the jail and on patrol since Sheriff Maketa left office.
  • There has been ZERO transparency and accountability over how it’s been spent under Bill Elder.
  • Most years the PST revenue is TOO MUCH, and the Sheriff’s Office ends up with a surplus.

So why is the BoCC so desperate to keep raiding your pocketbooks?

Follow the Money: Corporate Welfare and Campaign Donations

I mentioned Corporate Welfare earlier. The answer to the question about the BoCC’s desperation to keep an unnecessary tax alive lies in this. Diverting tax money to developers is a form of Corporate Welfare and it has resulted in this perverse need to keep the PST going. My friend Joel Miller has addressed this in the past, so I’ll borrow his words:

“…like funding Norwood’s skyscraper project in SW downtown. $40+ million in money collected as County sales and property taxes proposed to provide corporate welfare for the developer whose executives donated to 4 of 5 County Commissioners.”

Mr. Miller brought these sentiments to a BoCC meeting on August 28th to speak in opposition to extending the PST. He protested the use of tax money to line the pockets of the developers, the moneyed elites who have contributed to a majority of the County Commissioners’ political campaigns.

During his presentation, County Commissioner Mark Waller attacked him for calling them out. You can read more about it on my blog and see the exchange here:

The fact that he struck such a nerve by exposing the Corporate Welfare scheme is noteworthy. It goes hand-in-hand with the fact that the BoCC intentionally used deceptive language in how they framed the ballot issue before the voters this November. The Commissioners don’t like an informed public because that might result in us holding them accountable, like Mr. Miller did.

I called this a fake crisis in the post’s title. Here’s how it works. The real goal is to keep taxpayer money flowing to local developers. To do so, the BoCC approves spending general fund and sales tax money on them. By the way, these are people worth hundreds of millions of dollars, hardly a “needy” class.

This is done under the guise of some sort of common good project with the usual patronizing sales pitch that it is in your best interest. Actually, the campaign cash that’s traded to the Commissioners for siphoning off your money to the developers is their real interest.

The County creates a shortfall in general fund money as a result that they present to the taxpayers as a dire crisis. In this case, public safety will suffer, criminals will run rampant, and drugs will flow in the street like storm water (another fake cash cow, by the way).

Of course, all that mayhem can be avoided if you simply vote for the PST’s ‘extension,’ or so goes the hard sell. But let’s face reality. It’s not a PST they really need to you to fund; it’s a Corporate Welfare Tax (CWT). They can’t be honest about that because they know you’d reject it out of hand.

Now let’s take a step back for a moment. When an average family suffers a financial setback and has to make sacrifices in the household budget, what does it typically cut first? The less important things, right? Perhaps it’s premium cable TV, eating out a few times a week, or a gym membership. The family doesn’t stop putting food on the table or clothes on the kids, unless it’s a last resort.

But government does the opposite. When tax-and-spend liberal politicians want to coerce you into supporting a tax increase, they always threaten to cut the essential things first. They cast dire warnings of impending public safety crises to scare you into voting for new taxes.

The County performs hundreds of different functions, spends money on tens of thousands of different things, but the Commissioners and the Sheriff want you to believe that the first thing they will have to cut without the sales tax is public safety. It would be like the cash-strapped family forgoing food but keeping the HBO and Showtime subscription. Don’t buy it. This kind of demagoguery is one of the most cynical and dishonest things politicians do.

If you aren’t sure of the power and sway developers have on local government, whether it’s the BoCC or the Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor, just look at how many times citizens have vociferously told our elected officials we don’t want a particular development project, only to have it shoved down our throats. Unless and until we start to hold our elected officials accountable at the ballot box, we’ll keep getting this result.

County Question 1A: It’s in YOUR Hands

The Colorado Springs Independent carried an article on September 27th about County Question 1A, specifically focusing on the pro and con statements citizens submitted to be included in the ballot notice. I and two other people submitted con statements, but the only pro statement came from Sheriff Bill Elder. He wrote:

“…the loss of sales tax revenues dedicated to public safety would necessitate deep cuts in all operations of the Sheriff’s Office making us an easier target for gangs and other organized criminal activity.”

Notice the dire warnings to cast this as a crisis that only an extension of the PST will prevent?

I also find it incredibly ironic that the same Sheriff who has devastated morale in his own organization to the point that nearly half his force has turned over in his first three years, is suddenly worried about “deep cuts.” No one has been more responsible for “deep cuts” than Sheriff Elder.

Here’s the dirty little secret. Not one person will lose a job if the PST isn’t renewed.

When pushed into being responsible, the County will do the right thing and fund manpower from the general fund. By the way, what the Sheriff neglected to include in his pro statement was how he manipulated his own manpower document to preserve jobs for his inner circle should he face real cuts someday in manpower funding.

The Sheriff has a bloated command staff, unnecessary jobs created for political cronies as payback for supporting his election and reelection. Those positions are funded via the general fund, which means in the event of a genuine loss of revenue, those positions would be spared, the last people laid off.

But the PST-funded billets are disproportionately coded among the rank and file in positions that are actually considered critical. This was done intentionally to add to the crisis nature of a potential loss of PST money and to ratchet up the pressure on the public to support the PST extension.

Fewer things are more disgusting than a leader playing games with people’s lives, careers, and futures. And it was all done to fool you – the taxpayers – into supporting a tax increase that is unnecessary.

But don’t forget the bottom line: if there were no Corporate Welfare being given to developers for their campaign donations to Commissioners, there’d be no need for a PST to offset the taxpayer money the Commissioners are giving their rich donors.

What the Commissioners and the Sheriff really want is a Corporate Welfare Tax, but they’d never succeed in getting you to vote yes on that, so they created this phony crisis and then beg you to fund a PST to fix the crisis they manufactured. To make sure you support it, they present its alternative as runaway crime and violence, cynically scaring you into opening up your wallet.