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David Sirota Headshot

Where's Our City and State Government?

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The city of Denver and the state of Colorado are facing massive budget shortfalls -- the former's problems are so bad that Mayor John Hickenlooper is threatening to lay off police, and the latter's challenges are so steep that Gov. Bill Ritter is furloughing state workers. And so it's fair to ask a question that almost no one seems to be asking: During times like these, should we be giving away new taxpayer handouts to private corporations?

So far, the answer from municipal and state political leaders is yes.

In Denver, the new owner of Frontier Airlines, Republic Airways, is threatening to take jobs out of the city unless it gets new tax breaks. In response, city leaders like Hickenlooper have agreed to quickly put together a package of such favors. Though we don't yet know the details of that package, we do know it is being constructed very quickly, and with few questions of due diligence. Despite Frontier reporting nine straight months of profit and despite the aforementioned budget crisis, city officials seem to be responding to Republic's demands of "jump" by only asking "how high?" This, even though Republic is already moving forward with job relocations, thus suggesting that the new tax breaks will not, in fact, preserve jobs in the first place.

At the state level, while Ritter commendably made his budget cuts "surgical" and tried to limit their impact on middle- and lower-income citizens, he did not move to eliminate recently passed corporate handouts to, for instance, build a gleaming new NASCAR track.

Certainly, there's a good argument to be made that if the city and state's political leadership does not work to retain or create new jobs with tax incentives, the tax base will ultimately suffer, thereby exacerbating an already intense budget crisis. And perhaps that argument is the most valid. The problem is the glaring lack of any debate or discussion whatsoever.

To date, few -- if any -- in Denver and Colorado's political/media circles have actually asked the most simple questions about the tax/welfare policies. We're simply expected to accept that on one hand there's an emergency budget crisis that requires major cuts to basic services, and on the other hand a group of powerful corporations who require more taxpayer handouts -- and those requirements must be obliged without hesitation or concern for how they may affect each other.

That's kind of know-nothing policy making isn't good government -- indeed, it's barely government at all.

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