Friday, January 15, 2010

When Pigs Fly

Recently, former State Senator Ron Stewart and I served as panelists at a meeting sponsored by the Everitt Real Estate Center in Longmont, Colorado, a part of CSU. The title of the Conference was "Gallagher Revisited." Steve Laposa, director of the Everitt Center, issued a 40 page report as the conference opened, so panel members did not have a chance actually to see what the report said. Susan Kirkpatrick, executive director of Governor Ritter's Department of Local Affairs noted that without the Gallagher Amendment to our state's Constitution, residential taxpayers in Colorado would have paid $14.4 Billion more in property taxes. When asked by an audience member if Colorado had the will to change the tax structure, Tabor, Gallagher and Amendment 23? Kirkpatrick responded that we could not expect a first term governor to tackle the issue with all the other things on his plate.

Billed as a way to open up dialogue on a subject that is still evolving, Don Marostica, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, did not serve his appointing authority Governor Ritter as well. Instead of trying to reason together about the Gallagher Amendment, the caustic Marostica opened by saying the Gallagher Amendment was "ugly and it didn't matter how much lipstick you put on it, it was still a pig." Marostica then wondered with mock priggishness: "I don't know what you guys were smoking back in 1982," when Senator Stewart and I worked on the Gallagher Amendment.

There Marostica goes again, sloppin' around in the rhetorical pig pen.

He then read a letter from someone who was looking at opening a business in Colorado but decided not to settle in Colorado, a place some of us call "paradise." Instead the business he quoted huffed and puffed and punished us by saying they were looking at settling somewhere in the deep south or back east where homeowners paid more so his business, an airline, would pay less. The air line couldn't wait to settle somewhere else, a far off purgatory, where the summers roasted their employees like spits of high humidity, where huge traffic jams added hours to employee drive time, where hurricanes destroyed everything the employees owned, where winter ice storms disrupted commerce and the lives of their long suffering employees regularly. I wonder if the company might be trying to find a place in Red China, our new bankers for their company where slave labor is still legal?

Senator Stewart politely castigated Marostica by saying his wild rhetoric did not serve the dialogue of the day well. I was surprised that Marostica would adopt a line from his fellow Republican, Sarah Palin, since it did not serve her well after all.

Senator Stewart said "I don't think there are a lot of residents clamoring with their pitchforks to have their property taxes raised."

And I concluded that the nub of the issue could be summarized in one question since Gallagher is securely ensconced in our constitution and voters will have to vote to change it: "Will Colorado residential taxpayers vote to raise their home taxes so business interests can pay less?" Put that apple in the roasted pig's mouth and see if that pig will fly.

I suspect Director Marostica thinks his sarcastic comments are the "silver stake" in the heart of the Gallagher Amendment. But that's not what Stewart and I heard hardened commercial realtors and developers say after the panel was finished. Folks thanked Senator Stewart and me for stepping up to the leadership plate to solve a problem, certainly not perfect, but we aren't in heaven yet, only a place I think of as paradise, Colorado.

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