Vail Daily Editor Don Rogers: Tuesday’s simple lessons
Vail, CO, Colorado
Reading tea leaves, trying to extract lessons of the election Tuesday? Try this: 55-45.
That’s the percentage of “no” to “yes” votes for two mostly different ballot measures seeking small property tax increases.
One, the school district’s 3B, was among the most debated issues in memory. The other, Eagle River Fire’s 5A, was one of the quietest.
So, whatever you want to draw from these, remember that the vote for both was the same.
The list of similarities is short: Both were property tax increases in a down economy. Both asked for what critics could justifiably describe as blank checks. And both offered a weird mixed message that claimed extraordinary service would crash into an ash heap if tiny tax increases didn’t pass.
The main lesson is neither had a prayer in this economy.
The Cadillac vs. cinder blocks imagery simply was the kind of hyperbole to be expected.
But the blank check, or “just give us money,” nature of the measures is the type of question that never has worked with Eagle County voters.
County voters fairly readily vote for school measures in which the proposed spending is well specified, such as the bond issue for the new schools. It’s the “programs, teachers, buses, landscaping, whatever” language that suggests officials lack precise understanding of what they really need. A red flag, in other words.
By this 55-45 measure, the lack of a sunset clause in the school tax bid didn’t make much difference. I might vote differently in the future, however, with a limit on the duration of a tax and a clear focus on what we get for the extra money.
You might laugh, but I’d advocate a tight focus on attracting and developing ever-better teachers — that’s pay and training. There’s compelling evidence that great teachers make a real difference. Focus on this. Don’t throw the bus, the landscaping and the kitchen sink into the deal.
Criticism of pizza and Brown Palace bills was plain silly, right down there with emotional appeals to define the vote as for education or against education.
More thoughtful discussion about assessment scores, payroll increases, state funding trends and the weight on taxpayers added insight, at least for me. But we can’t really say that mattered so much in the end, either.
Some advice, for what it’s worth: Catch the voters as the economy swings up. Be specific about how the money will improve service. And try to avoid insulting the heart and intelligence of the very community you need to win over.