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Voters Want Green... In Their Wallets

A Commentary by Howard Rich

Friday, November 13, 2009

As the fallout continues to settle from the 2009 elections, among the more overlooked results was a ballot issue in Boulder County, Colorado that would have extended an existing sales tax to fund the acquisition of additional “open space.”

Obviously, this regional issue didn’t garner as much national interest as the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, or the mayoral races in New York, Atlanta and Houston, or a surprising near-win by an unknown third party challenger in a hotly-contested New York Congressional race. Nonetheless, it stands out as another compelling affirmation of the new direction America is taking – if only American politicians would listen.

Approval of this “open space” tax in Boulder, set to expire in 2019, seemed like a perfect storm – even in this bitter economic climate. After all, it wasn’t technically a tax increase – it was a future extension (a decade down the road) of an existing tax, and not a particularly large tax at that. On top of that, it was expressly devoted for the purpose of land conservation, something Boulder voters have supported at the polls for the past two decades.

In other words, this was precisely the sort of referendum that routinely wins by landslide margins in the suburbs of Denver, where “green” voters dominate and Republicans have been virtually extinct since the Reagan revolution.

And yet amazingly, the “open space” ballot issue was narrowly defeated by Boulder voters.

To put that outcome in perspective, Barack Obama won Boulder County with a whopping 72.3% of the vote a year ago. In 2004, Boulder voters supported Democrat John Kerry 2-to-1 over George W. Bush. Four years before that? Al Gore got fifty percent of the vote – but only because 12% of Boulder residents voted for Ralph Nader.

“It's disappointing, but we knew going in that this would be a tough sell in this economic climate,” the local County Commissioner said after the tax extension went down in defeat.

Really? Because it’s never been a tough sell before.

An editorial in the Denver Post a few days after the election managed to muster the appropriate shock.

“When Boulder voters reject a tax increase meant to create more open space, it's clear there has been a sea change in political moods,” the editorial stated.

Indeed there has been a “sea change,” even if Obama and his allies refuse to acknowledge it.

In a related vote, Boulder County voters also rejected a measure that would have expanded low-interest loans to property owners making energy-efficient upgrades to their homes and businesses. Like the “open space” tax, the vote to authorize these loans wouldn’t have immediately raised taxes or fees – but it would have expanded the debt obligation of the local government by $85 million.

Once again, Boulder voters weren’t hearing it – and they weren’t alone among historically left-leaning Coloradans when it came to rebuking these comparatively feeble efforts by local governments to dip into their wallets and pocketbooks.

In Aurora, another pro-Obama stronghold just east of Denver, voters shot down a tax that would have kept open four local libraries. Meanwhile in Denver – which Obama won a year ago with 75.4% of the vote – a tax increase for infrastructure improvements at a local school district was rejected.

Like the twenty-point electoral shifts in Virginia and New Jersey, these ballot issue results in Colorado are both shocking and uncomplicated.

From the suburbs of Denver to the banks of the Delaware, voters are in the mood for more “green,” alright … in their wallets.

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