Hickenlooper’s State of the City Address 2006

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, one of the most popular politician in all of Colorado, will deliver his state of the city address today (available here later today; prior state of the city and inauguration speech available here).

The leaked highlights will be a “Greenprint” for Denver (i.e. an environmental blueprint) and a proposal to raise sales taxes 1.2 cents on every $10 purchase to increase pre-school funding in the city by about $12,000,000, perhaps as soon as the crowded November 2006 ballot.According to the City’s website:

The goals of the Denver Preschool Program are to maximize access to and participation in quality pre-school programs for all four-year-old children in the City and County of Denver and to support quality improvement of preschool programs available to those children.

It would use outreach and means tested tuition credits to make it happen.  Hickenlooper’s own son, Teddy, is just finishing his pre-school years.

Governor Owens vetoed two similar proposals passed by the General Assembly in the 2006 legislative session, H.B. 1005 which would have authorized school districts to impose local property taxes after voter approval to pay for full day kindergarten, and H.B. 1397, which would have created Early Childhood Councils statewide.  By utilizing Denver’s home rule powers, and going outside the jurisdiction of the school district K-12 system by providing pre-school programs instead, Hickenlooper avoids the need to secure state level approval to offer the program.

Indeed, this development is symptomic of the effect of TABOR more widely.  Just as federal budget cuts force state and local governments to step in to provide services no longer provided at the federal level, when the state government is crunched by TABOR or the reluctance of officials like Governor Owens to expand state spending, the result, as often as not, is for local officials to step in and fill the need with local tax dollars.  If a service is needed, the question is often not, will taxes be raised to pay for it, but where will taxes be raised to pay for it?  In the case of pre-school education, insufficient federal and state funding of pre-school education, and a de facto ban on school district funding for that purpose, has spurred the city government to step in, and if it works in Denver, the program will probably be widely copied elsewhere.

Cross Posted at Wash Park Prophet.