More often than not, odd-year elections will focus on smaller constituencies, from the outlying municipalities to public schools and special districts. The ballot questions, if there are any, tend to cover noncontroversial bookkeeping matters.
This time around, however, local voters have the opportunity to weigh in on two vital issues that will impact Colorado's and Colorado Springs' future. Mail ballots are being delivered this week, with voter turnout expected to be extremely low. We hope those forecasts are wrong. But for our kids and our health, take the time to understand the questions and then be sure to mail in or drop off your ballot.
City Issue 2B — Memorial Hospital
The measure put forth by City Council reads simply: "Shall Ordinance No. 1854 (1949) that requires City Council to levy a tax to pay for any operating deficit of Memorial Health System be repealed?"
Voters who haven't been keeping up might not grasp the deeper meaning. This issue sets the stage for Colorado Springs citizens to decide, in a possible 2012 special election, whether we want to make radical changes in how our city-owned hospital will be controlled and operated.
In most scenarios being discussed, a new nonprofit or a profit-making entity would take over Memorial, pending voters' approval. Until the actual proposal (or proposals) that will go to local voters is known, it's impossible to determine whether the change makes sense. But it's prudent to enable a full discussion and a 2012 vote on Memorial's future.
City Council already agreed, in putting forward this question, to send out requests for proposals (RFPs, prepared by a task force), review subsequent offers, choose a lessee and submit that choice to voters for a special election as soon as possible next year. And if city voters decide to turn over control of Memorial, it's imperative that the new controlling entity would bear full responsibility for covering any future operating deficits. Thus it is critical for voters to remove this 62-year-old ordinance, allowing the discussion to continue.
State Proposition 103 — Education funding
Colorado, despite being one of the nation's 10 wealthiest states, has been pathetic in its education funding compared to our neighbors.
According to Great Education Colorado (greateducation.org), we're spending $3,265 less per pupil than Nebraska, $2,285 less per pupil than Kansas and $7,748 per pupil less than Wyoming. We're 50th in teacher salaries when stacked against pay for comparable professions, 41st in technology, 40th in per-pupil spending adjusted for regional cost differences and 40th in median student-teacher ratio in primary schools.
We could go on and on, but those embarrassing numbers should be more than enough. Colorado is facing a crisis in public education, with many districts already having made severe cuts in teachers and curriculum. They're also talking of ending such programs as music and the arts, as well as athletics and other extra-curricular activities.
Our kids are our future. They also are our most precious resource. This measure would raise the state income tax from 4.63 to 5 percent, while adding a 10th of a cent per dollar spent, both for just five years (2012 through 2016). The increases are projected to produce $536 million in the first year, and that much or more the following four years.
Given that the state's budget woes have led to drastic recent cuts in education ($260 million this year alone), and that these revised tax rates would match the exact rates Coloradans were paying in 1999, we feel this proposal is fully justified.
We must realize that making education a top priority will be an essential ingredient in appealing to companies and entrepreneurs bringing jobs to Colorado. It's also vital for developing in our young people the knowledge and skills that those jobs will require.
We can't just count on our Big Ms — the mountains and the military — to save us. We have to invest in our kids and their future, which also translates into Colorado's future. Otherwise, we'll all lose.