Ballot initiatives have my support, but not my confidence

Craig Hall, Publisher
Craig Hall, Publisher

I know, I’m the Negative Nancy. Believe me, many friends have told me so over the past few months when addressing the ONLY way to fix a problem a government entity created is to throw more money at it. I mean, if you’ve ever seen them approach taxpayers with a different solution, please point me in that direction so I can begin to rebuild confidence. But I just don’t see it yet.

So let’s begin with  why I believe this time we should vote yes on both the school bond issue and law enforcement issue. And then, of course, why we shouldn’t the next time — should it occur.

For our schools, it’s pretty simple. No child should be forced to go to school in a dilapidated building. There’s really nothing else to be said there. There’s also no reason to use textbooks that are 20 years or more out of date. And yes, there’s absolutely no reason teachers need to take a penny out of their own pockets to supply their classrooms. Our tax dollars should be dedicated to these 100 percent, and for that I’m willing to help. Especially since this tax increase seems to have a specific plan to begin addressing these serious issues.

But here’s why we shouldn’t vote for a mill increase should Mesa County District 51 approach us again in the near future: It means the district didn’t have a specific plan to address these same needs that will be ongoing, which is imperative if it’s serious about addressing these issues.               

Why do I say this? This is the same district that claims to be $240 MILLION behind in capital and maintenance projects yet only dedicates 0.5 percent of its budget toward those projects. What is that, a 300-year plan? The same district funds every PERA payment “because it’s the law.” The same district compares us to Denver or a U.S. average in every category, as if the needs of Denver are the same as ours. You’ll notice it doesn’t compare us to poorer districts around the state or country. These things are all concerning, because not one of them helps fix the problems that are on our education leaders for more than 20 years because they haven’t been made a priority.

My quick solutions? Take the money teachers pay into unions and allow them to use it for school supplies with full reimbursement — and yes, disband the union, it’s never done one thing to improve our schools. Cut back staff and pension payments as any business would have to do. No one in the real world of investments has the guarantees PERA does. And with these savings, start taking $15 million or so each year to address our failing schools. And at the state level, either create a fair school funding plan — such as $10,000 per kid and the money follows the kids based on parents’ choices, which would really improve school performance, or simply gut the whole state and national education system and let us keep our money here to solve our own problems.

As for the law enforcement measure, I fully support bringing on more prosecutors to put criminals behind bars. District Attorney Dan Rubenstein led a presentation to our local Lions Club just a few years ago predicting this exact outcome from passing of our pot law. I’m sad to see he was correct. Should we add more cops? Statistics show we should for an area our size, so I’m OK with that as well.

But here’s why this should be a one-time, short-time solution. First  the simple irony of how our tax system works in the fact the county could have to refund tax dollars under TABOR while not funding law enforcement. Sorry county commissioners, but you have to fund law enforcement. It’s your job. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. But this one should be easy.

Second, I’m always leery of a measure that dedicates tax money for one specific purpose. Here’s why. I’ve found many politicians are eager to take the exact amount the taxpayers pay in the system from the general budget to use on pet projects elsewhere. Finally, I have no illusions more cops on the streets will somehow magically reduce crime because criminals don’t obey the law. You can have all the studies you want, but there are just bad people out there and we need to be able to arrest and prosecute them.

One solution? If we’re gonna fight drug and violent crimes in ever increasing numbers, we need to fund our abilities to do so. You can’t look at the current situation and not link it to the state pot laws — as crime was down on the same budget in preceding years. So let’s at least get our share of the income, and that means allowing for pot sales across the county, even in Grand Junction. Then again, government loves its exclusive, sin-tax monopolies, so I’m not sure how well that will work.

Actually, I have a simpler solution: Let’s get God back in our lives and put the family first. We had much better results in these areas when we did. And one can link the destruction of both of these to our problems as well.

We can and should give these folks more money, but must hold them accountable.


Craig Hall is owner and publisher of the Business Times. Reach him at 424-5133 or publisher@thebusinesstimes.