Tax protester slips stealth comments into Jeffco ballot measure booklet

An opponent of a school district mill levy increase slipped sarcastic arguments about retraining senior citizens to live in more “modest accommodations” and “progress toward the Socialist utopia” into an election notice sent by the Jefferson County clerk to every household in the county this week.

Included in a series of comments supporting issue 3A — a mill levy increase to raise $34 million for the Jefferson County school district’s operating expenses — are a pair of deadpan paragraphs that satirize teachers unions, the Barack Obama campaign and “burdensome” tax increases in the booklet prepared by county officials.

“We do not review for content,” the county’s deputy of elections, Josh Liss, told the Colorado Independent Friday morning. “It’s our policy to print exactly what is submitted to us.”

Even these comments, purportedly in favor of the mill levy increase, on page 21 of the Jefferson County Notice of Coordinated Election:

Taxes should be increased $34 million annually by a mill levy of 4.4 mills. Past increases have not resulted in the desired student performance improvement and a greater infusion of funds is required. Compared to other professions and trades, teachers are poorly paid and hopefully beginning salaries in the six-digit range can be offered within three or four years.

Senior citizens with fixed incomes are hard-pressed to shoulder increases in property tax. These people should recognize that their reduced productivity calls for them to be replaced by the youth of our nation. This measure calls for some of the property taxes to be earmarked for “Expanding options for career job skills and technical training to prepare students for today’s work world.” Half of these should be committed to the following:

Seniors on fixed incomes, to whom this school tax is burdensome, need training, as well as compassion. They must be offered the opportunity to learn how to locate more modest accommodations than those they currently occupy, and how to cope, in other communities if necessary.

This tax increase furthers the goals of our teacher unions. It is consistent with a presidential candidate’s promise for change, and hope for progress toward the Socialist utopia through education. This increase could create a pad until the oppressive TABOR measures can be repealed, and the Amendment 23 extra millions for schools be made permanent. The same criteria and logic should be applied in consideration of ballot question 3B, resulting in a resounding approval of the $754 million debt. This will add as much as $69 million to the $34 million for 3A, annually, a picayune amount considering the future of our youth and well-being of the District’s employees.

The comments were submitted to the school district by Arvada resident Thomas Graham, according to Helen Neal, the district’s elections officer.

“I talked to him about the fact he was being disingenuous calling those pro statements,” Neal said Friday morning, “but he wanted them in that way.”

Neal said her hands were tied by TABOR requirements that the district print comments “as submitted,” so she passed them on to the county for inclusion in the election booklet. “We submitted what was submitted to us,” she said, noting officials are only able to edit comments for length if they are more than 500 words.

“It’s not intended to be funny,” Graham told the Colorado Independent Friday afternoon, “this is a very serious matter. This is the largest mill levy override in the state proposed by the school district.” He wouldn’t say why he submitted comments in favor of the mill levy question when he opposes it, urging readers simply to “take it as it’s written.”

Graham also disputed whether his authorship of the comments was a matter of public record, claiming he had submitted them confidentially as provided by TABOR.

Every election that asks for increased taxes or debt, Colorado governments are required by TABOR to send a list of local ballot measures to all households, similar to the Blue Book sent to all state residents with arguments for and against ballot proposals.

The head of a liberal think-tank that has pointed out some “structural flaws” in TABOR provisions questioned whether the school district and county clerk really had to include Graham’s “disingenuous” comments.

“It makes a mockery of the purpose of informing voters,” said Bell Policy Center President Wade Buchanan on Friday. He said that under TABOR, election officials aren’t required to publish comments that aren’t pertinent or those designed to confuse voters.

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Ernest Luning

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