Colorado Editorial Roundup
The Denver Post, Sept. 11, on Jared Polis’ taxes:
Jared Polis is right; it is “completely appropriate” for someone who doesn’t have any net income not to pay federal income tax.
But you wouldn’t know that based on the misleading ads that are being run by the Republican Governors Association.
The television ad makes it sound like Polis has used clever accounting tricks, specifically off-shore accounts that shelter money from the IRS, to avoid paying federal income taxes.
The Denver Post’s reporters have never found evidence of such behavior in Polis’ lengthy financial disclosures required by Congress or in the tax documents he voluntarily disclosed when he ran for Congress in 2008.
The Denver Post’s Jon Murray reported that in the four years spanning 2001 to 2005, Polis reported “a net loss of income.” Murray noted that in other years “Polis paid more than $18.4 million in income taxes on more than $120 million in adjusted gross income.”
We are certain that Polis, like all good businessmen, has taken full advantage of the deductions and exemptions in the tax code to help minimize his tax bill, but Polis’ campaign is insistent that he has not personally used an off-shore tax haven.
It’s important to note that the reason we feel comfortable refuting these claims is that Polis took the laudable step in 2008, the year he was first elected to Congress, to make seven years of tax returns available for scrutiny.
That type of transparency and openness is no longer the status quo.
President Donald Trump has been sitting in the White House for almost two years now without disclosing his tax records. He is the first president not to do so in decades.
Tax returns don’t tell voters everything, but they are a good indication of candidates’ charitable giving, income sources, the type of deductions they have claimed, income from investments and other tax avoidance measures.
In 2014, both Gov. John Hickenlooper and his opponent Bob Beauprez released their tax returns ahead of the election — to be specific, Hickenlooper released 27 years of shorter tax summaries and Beauprez released eight years of complete tax records, according to The Denver Post’s analysis of their documents.
That report indicated that during at least one year Hickenlooper’s charitable giving and his deductions for mortgage and investment interest resulted in him paying a very low federal tax rate of 3 percent, and Beauprez’s business losses meant he paid no federal income tax in 2008 and 2009.
We don’t recall any attack ads accusing those businessmen of evading taxes — and that’s because they didn’t.
Releasing tax documents is an important, albeit uncomfortable, step for transparency. It’s a tradition we hope Polis and his opponent Walker Stapleton will continue by releasing at least five years of tax returns before the November election.
Polis also has put his assets in a blind trust while he has served in public office, an important step to avoid the conflicts of interest that can come when working for the public good. We hope Stapleton would do the same if elected.
And while we can’t ensure that all of the bad actors out there running unaccountable third-party ad campaigns will do the responsible thing with the information in tax returns, we know the fair reporting conducted by the mainstream media will include the context necessary to inform voters about the finances of Colorado’s potential next governor.
The Durango Herald, Sept. 11, on Durango’s proposed tiny house village:
Tiny homes are big right now. Not just in Colorado but all around the West. And while affordability and necessity are two big reasons for their popularity, they are also attracting great interest for their attractive, ingenious architecture and environmentally-friendly construction.
They are also providing solutions to housing dilemmas. A rural school district in Arizona has built a tiny home community to provide affordable in-district housing for teachers. In Denver, the Beloved Community Village, a tiny home enclave in the RiNo neighborhood built to house homeless residents, just celebrated its one-year anniversary, fulfilling its original intent of providing shelter for those most in need.
Tiny homes are here in Durango as well. Some are parked on private land while others are nestled in local mobile home parks. Down on Sawmill Road, Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses is building and selling beautiful, customized versions within the city limits.
Tiny home dwellers accumulate experiences instead of possessions, they say. Owners are free to pursue the lifestyle they envision in places like Durango instead of spending all their time working, sometimes at multiple jobs, to afford traditional housing.
Tiny home options work for young couples looking to own their first home, and can also work well for seniors who no longer need so much space and cannot maintain the traditional, larger home they once needed for a family. For those well-versed in the tiny home mantra, these compact dwellings are the answer to our affordable housing crisis.
Critics are far from convinced. They decry the tiny house movement as a millennial trend that will soon pass, and label tiny house developments “gentrified trailer parks.” Close analysis reveals that tiny houses may not be a good investment at all, critics say, and a mix of tiny homes and traditional housing in a neighborhood will likely result in a sharp drop in property values for owners of the larger, traditionally built homes.
Those points might be debatable, but this is not: The “tiny” lifestyle does not work for everyone, even in planned communities that provide parks, gardens and other shared amenities in addition to spaces for tiny homes. A tiny house may seem ideally romantic to a young couple in love, but the arrival of a first child or, heaven forbid, twins, may turn the cozy dwelling into a claustrophobic cell.
Former La Plata County Commissioner Bob Lieb has proposed a 22-space tiny house development, Escalante Village, on Baker Lane near Escalante Middle School. The Durango Planning Commission has approved the plan, and some 500 people have showed interest in the project by signing up to receive more information.
We are intrigued as well, and more than that, are hoping the city approves the project when it comes before the council later this month. Tiny homes do not belong everywhere, nor are they the compact-size-fits-all answer to all of our housing woes, as some promoters would have us believe.
But as one part of the many solutions that we must implement to address Durango’s acute affordable housing problem — and maybe a way to help some of our chronic homeless residents — we are ready to try.
The Gazette, Sept. 9, on the impact of Amendment 73 on local governments:
Bad ideas don’t get much nuttier than Colorado’s proposed Amendment 73. It would raise taxes by $1.6 billion, purportedly soaking the rich to pay for education. Meanwhile, it would reduce funding for counties, cities and towns, library and water districts, health agencies, fire departments and more.
Amendment 73 would defund local services just as we need better roads and bridges. It would reduce revenues for fire districts as wildfires pose increasing devastation. It would financially stress public health agencies dealing with increasing suicide rates, aging populations and an opioid crisis.
The ballot doesn’t tell voters the full story what this amendment would do. It comes across as higher taxes for the rich, lower taxes for all else, and more money for schools. What’s not to like?
Colorado has long benefited from a flat income tax in which everyone pays 4.63 percent. This means the state imposes no disincentive to success. By raising income taxes on high earners, we tell them to avoid Colorado.
Amendment 73 would raise the income tax by 0.37 percent on middle-class workers earning $150,000. It would impose an additional 3.62 percent tax on incomes of $500,000 or more. With a bracket of 8.25, Amendment 73 puts Colorado among 10 states with the highest income tax rates. It aligns us with New York, which imposes an 8.82 percent income tax — but only on incomes exceeding $2.1 million.
The amendment would raise Colorado’s flat corporate income tax rate of 4.63 percent by 1.37 percent. At 6 percent, we would out-tax neighboring Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.
Next-door neighbor Wyoming has no corporate income tax, as does Texas. Corporations considering relocation to Colorado would have to make peace with paying higher taxes and trying to attract executives willing to pay one of the country’s highest tax rates.
The proposed taxes will kill jobs and send businesses packing.
Amendment 73 appears to create lower property taxes for the masses. It reduces the residential school district property tax assessment rate from 7.2 percent to 7 percent. The nonresidential school assessment goes from 29 percent to 24 percent.
This may sound great to average voters. One simple amendment sticks high-wage earners with more school funding, while lowering taxes on homes and nonresidential properties.
The Colorado Education Association, the teachers union, assures us this amendment brings tax relief. In a statement, the union says Amendment 73 “reduces the nonresidential assessment rate, providing tax relief for those Coloradans who have shouldered a large burden of the local share of school funding .?”
The union could not be more openly deceptive. Although it freezes the residential assessment rate at 7 percent, a 0.2 percent reduction, estimates show the rate dipping to 6.11 percent in the 2019 reappraisal. That means the Amendment 73 raises property taxes by locking them in at a rate projected to otherwise drop.
Larimer County Assessor Steve Miller explains the scheme might starve other taxing districts because of Colorado’s Gallagher Amendment. Voters overwhelmingly enacted Gallagher in 1982 to place a higher percentage of the tax burden on nonresidential properties. It mandates owners of residential properties pay 45 percent of property taxes, while owners of nonresidential properties pay 55 percent of the tax burden.
“The economic theory underpinning Gallagher has proven a bit wobbly over time,” Miller explains in an article for CompleteColorado.com.
With passage of Amendment 73, Miller explains, Colorado ends up with two assessed values on every parcel of property in Colorado.
“Nonresidential properties would be assessed at both 29 and at 24 percent. Residential properties would be assessed at 7 percent and also at whatever the adjustable Gallagher rate is calculated to be,” Miller explains.
Through a tax calculation too wonkish to fully unpack here, Miller shows how Amendment 73 and Gallagher interact to reduce the state’s overall property valuation by at least 8.6 percent.
“The assessed values and property tax revenues of taxing authorities that are not school districts would be significantly reduced — contrary to what the amendment’s proponents advertise,” Miller wrote.
We need higher wages for teachers and more funding for schools. We can’t afford to achieve these goals with an ill-conceived law that would kill jobs, punish success, and reduce funding for nearly every tax-funded service throughout the state.
Fire chiefs, public health professionals, mayors, county commissioners, city officials — and all others who use property taxes to serve the public — need to learn more about Amendment 73. If enacted, their agencies will make do with less.
The Daily Sentinel, Sept. 9, on safeguards in Colorado elections:
In town this weekend for the Club 20 debates, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams stopped by the Sentinel Friday to make a pitch for an endorsement.
The Sentinel won’t make endorsements until closer to when ballots hit mailboxes in October, but the record that Williams is running on is certainly worth mentioning at a time when election security is foremost on the minds of voters anticipating the midterm elections.
“Colorado has been called the safest place to vote in the country,” Williams told the newspaper editorial board. “There are at least two sources for this. One is the Washington Post and the other is Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen. There’s not much that the Washington Post and Trump’s security secretary agree on, but the fact that Colorado is the safest is one of those few things.”
Indeed, Nielsen told an audience of Colorado election officials that other states could benefit from Colorado’s preparedness. “We’d love to continue to use you as an example of what other states can adopt,” she said Thursday as part of a cyber-security and disaster exercise in Denver.
When Williams became secretary of state in 2014, he began a process of trying out new voting systems. Mesa County was part of that pilot program. In the 2015 election, the pilot sites tested four different vendor systems. As a result, Williams’ office required Colorado clerks to use a voter-verifiable paper ballot. Even if voters use machines, the system spits out a paper ballot, eliminating reliance on computer memory cards to store electronic votes.
Paper ballots allowed Colorado to implement the nation’s first “risk-eliminating audit” — a process in which randomly selected paper ballots are compared to the record of votes cast by a bipartisan team of judges.
“Mesa County and every other county in the state passed that risk-limiting audit,” Williams said. “The fact that I can say with statistical certainty that no one changed any votes means I can say that nobody in Moscow or Beijing or anywhere else changed a vote in Colorado.”
Nielsen’s department wants all 50 states to conduct postelection risk-limiting audits by 2020. Safeguarding elections remains one of Homeland Security’s biggest priorities, though Nielsen said no threats have been detected so far that match the scale of the 2016 effort by Russia to interfere in the election.
“Part of the Russians’ attempt wasn’t just to influence the election, but to diminish confidence in the election,” Williams said. “My job is to have systems in place so that Colorado voters have the assurance that their vote is going to count.”
Colorado also has the highest percentage of registered voters in the country, Williams said. About 85 percent of eligible people are registered to vote thanks to system interfaces with state agencies that automatically register people unless they decline.
These are excellent things for Colorado to lead the nation in. Now if we can just make some headway on per-pupil funding for schools.