Opinion: No on 2A – Restricted funding limits Boulder’s financial flexibility

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Friday, Oct. 20, 2023

A collection of arguments against Ballot Measure 2A. Comments have been edited for length and clarity. Links to original documents are provided.

Want a different take? Read arguments in favor of 2A

The general fund pays for critical services. 

As former councilwoman Mary Young noted in her op-ed for the Daily Camera, the tax currently goes into the general fund, which pays for so much of the city’s essential services: 

“Police, fire/rescue, housing and human services, facilities maintenance and municipal court to name just a few. It pays for programs such as wildfire resilience, behavioral health response, the upcoming day services center, safe and managed parks and public spaces, and provides funding for community programs that help address social inequities such as home repairs at mobile home communities and language access to non-English speakers. And, yes, provides funds to repair those pesky potholes.”

Restricting revenue goes against the advice of past financial experts and ties the city’s hands in future spending decisions.

“The main problem” with 2A, wrote former mayor Matt Appelbaum, is that it is “a dedicated tax for 20 years.”

“They’re fine for capital projects but awful for operating expenses. … This one is worse than usual since the money, unlike the taxes for Open Space and transportation, doesn’t even go to city agencies.”

Young noted that 54% of Boulder’s sales tax revenue is already “dedicated” to specific programs and/or departments. Financial experts identified restricted spending as a problem 15 years ago, and the city has generally been trying to move away from the practice of tying revenue to specific expenditures.

Despite his support for 2A, councilman Bob Yates, who is running for mayor, had this to say in his interview with Boulder Beat

Dedicating revenue “locks you in, and then when your values change or when the economy goes to crap … There’s a multi-million-dollar hole in our budget that pays for parks and rec centers and police and fire, pothole patching,” etc.”

Boulder has other, more pressing needs — according to Boulderites

From former councilman Macon Cowles, in his take on the election (candidates and issues):

“A July 2023 poll of Boulder residents asked, “In your own words, what do you feel is the most important issue facing Boulder today?” The “arts” did not surface as even one of the 14 areas of concern for residents. Asked what three areas should receive increased funding from the city, only 11.8% thought that funding should be increased for arts. 44% wanted increased spending on homelessness 42.5% on affordable housing, 42.5% on human services and 41.5% on public safety. These are the very things that are paid from the general fund. 

“By voting NO on 2A, you will [be] voting to continue using the money from this important tax to support the priorities of the community. 

Fuzziness in the numbers.

Proponents of 2A have noted that Boulder spends less on arts than other nearby cities. (Although as Young countered, direct city spending doesn’t account for things like free rent in city buildings.)

Appelbaum had this to say: 

“Even if Boulder does spend somewhat less [on arts than other cities], maybe that’s because we’ve chosen to spend vastly more on some other things…like, say, Open Space? Is that so bad? Must we be the biggest spenders on everything?

“Yes, there are struggling artists. You might be aware that there are large numbers of Boulder residents – and even more non-residents who work here – that provide our essential services who are … struggling just as much or even more.

Arts advocates have claimed that tax money spent on arts is returned through higher spending (and, therefore, taxes). While this seemed true in a 2017 study, a more recent report found that the arts brought in less city sales tax in 2022 than the city invested that year.

Appelbaum sounded caution over any return-on-investment research:

“Certain artistic endeavors likely do provide a return-on-investment (ROI) for the city – although here again the math is exceptionally fuzzy; if you’ve ever tried to sum the claimed economic impacts from all of the business sectors you’d find that total far exceeds the actual total since each sector – certainly including the arts – is, let’s say, very generous with its assumptions. 

But even if the arts have a great ROI, since when have we made budgetary decisions based on that? In fact, Boulder has been very careful to avoid that trap. Should we now reduce spending for many key amenities (say, recreation centers) that have negative ROIs and increase it for those that bring in the money? And the arts community should be careful that these claims don’t result in our funding only those forms of “art” that do seem to have good ROIs but not those that don’t, regardless of merit or community desires.”

Process protests

From frequent City Council watcher and commenter Patrick Murphy:

“The arts are great but need to stand on their own and not parasitize essential services. The Arts tax should be a new tax that would probably fail, and that’s why it was slipped into the existing tax. It’s a poison pill that should cause 2A to fail and cause a redo next year with the entirety of the sales tax applied to essential services, and a new tax for the Arts should be subjected to a separate vote. 

“Let the Arts stand on their own. I wish them luck.”

Expressed opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Beat.

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1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. I read Macon’s take on the election, linked in this piece, and like the other opponents of Safe Zones for Kids he engages in rather wild hyperbole, predicting this measure would “sweep the homeless from within 50 feet of every sidewalk in the city” or words to that effect. Mr Cowles knows very well indeed that municipal ordinances are enforced with considerable discretion if not reluctance by the Boulder PD or even completely ignored. Even if this draconian scenario were logistically possible, I really doubt it would be carried out with such thoroughness. At best, this initiative might “send a message” to local government or provide local police with yet another tool they can either use if needed or totally disregard. City Council has shown no reluctance to ignore sentiments expressed by a public vote, and BPD is capable of doing the same. I think some people just don’t want this sentiment expressed and are willing to spend time and money to that end. The “unhoused,” in the latest silly euphemism, are Boulder’s sacred cattle.

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