Editor and Publisher Don Rogers: Why fear voters on open space? | VailDaily.com

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers: Why fear voters on open space?

Don Rogers
Vail, CO, Colorado

I think the Democrats don’t want to put the open space tax back on the ballot because they’re afraid it would be repealed.

This issue is the most interesting – and separates candidates for county commissioner the most – of this election season.

It’s also the clearest example of how would-be leaders think about vastly different times than when 51 more people voted for the open space tax in 2002 than against it.

Now the tax generates over $4 million a year for a relative luxury in a county that’s already four-fifths public open space.

Answers to a question about the tax at a commissioner candidate forum Monday, not surprisingly, provided the most insight for me into each of the five candidates.

By the way, kudos to the Republican Women for staging a fair and well-run intellectual exchange. They’ll do it again for the state House and district attorneys’ races next Monday at the County Building.

Answers to other questions were interesting, too, but this one has been a lightning rod lately. I’m far from the only one who has raised it.

Candidates said they came away from discussions with constituents with vastly different impressions, depending on their party. Amazing.

If you are a Democrat, the public overwhelmingly wants to keep the tax. If Republican, no one. Anyone talking to constituents from the other party?

The candidates all seemed to think that how the program has been managed is an issue. Maybe, but I think it’s been very well run over the past 10 years, including controversial efforts to protect land that in 50 years would have been prime for development. “Public access” is fantastic, but how much more is needed in this wild county with a tax that collects $4 million each year at the bottom of the deepest downturn since the Great Depression?

The larger issue, frankly, is whether the tax has run its course in comparison to higher priorities.

Last week, I suggested that the school system, clobbered with funding cuts, is an example of a higher value today at the same tax burden.

Democrats, true to form, have declared that I’ve raised a false choice. We should pass higher property taxes for both!

Plenty of Republicans might argue for neither, although I haven’t heard that from any candidates.

So what was that nasty old editor up to comparing the open space tax and a similar tax hike for the schools that the voters rejected last year?

Well, pointing out the obvious: Our allocation of taxes currently declares that open space is more important than education. Do we really prioritize today’s needs in this order now?

The school district’s situation simply makes this issue sharper. Colorado education funding has fallen to the lower tier of states. We have an abundance of open space.

And so the question.

However you answer, it tells me this should be back on the ballot, along with a well-thought-out, specific school measure, next fall.

Then our community truly could get clear about major priorities – whether passing both measures, passing one, or passing none.

It strikes me as important enough for the voters to weigh in.

Why should any commissioner fear this?

That might be the best question of all.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2920.

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