“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
Sir Walter Scott
Colorado taxpayers have been in a decades old tug of war with the folks under the Dome over using public money to underwrite corporate tourism’s advertising budget. Some may even have thought they’d won the battle in 1993, a year after the passage of the initiative called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR as it’s more popularly known.
For it was in that year the legislature, caught in TABOR’s grip, submitted a ballot measure asking if the public wanted to reinstitute public funding for tourism promotion, the funding for which had expired the year previous. Prior to TABOR, the legislature would have simply rubber stamped funding with a renewed appropriation, but because of TABOR, they had to go to the people. The people said no.
The tourism lobby has tried to explain this vote away by saying that the people didn’t know what they were voting for. If the public had known that the source of their subsidy was from hotel stays, car rentals, air travel, and restaurant tabs, say they, then surely the public would have graced the referendum with their vote. Encapsulated in this argument is a splendiferous sense of entitlement. They can’t seem to accept the idea that people may just think prosperous businesses should pay their own advertising costs. Some may even oppose the idea of more people flooding I-70 in cars plastered with decals warning, “Don’t mess with Texas“—an invitation many Coloradoans would flock to with 17th century religious fervor, if only they could.
The stealth movement for resurrecting public funding of corporate tourism had a coming out party in 2000 when Governor Owens, a self anointed fiscal conservative, found $5 million in new advertising money for the struggling folks in those mountain hamlets full of oversized-condos-for-rent. (Note: despite public perception, funding for tourism never truly ceased altogether, just the funding that was anticipated under the 1993 referendum. As one of the cognoscenti under the Dome told me, you’re got to read the small print. As I mentioned to him, small print in the credit card business is known as gotcha!)
Political cover for Owens’ actions was provided by a study showing that the industry had lost $2 billion and the tax dollars that go with it since the public had foolishly and shortsightedly tried to cut off their funding in 1993. That the study was commissioned by the industry itself caused only an arched eyebrow or two among those responsible for being responsible. And politicians profess to wonder why the public refuses to abandon TABOR and rush to their arms. Really?
The promotion of tourism with the public’s money continued with yearly appropriations until 2006. Elevation and consolidation had already occurred with the creation of a Tourism Office within the governor’s own executive. HB 06-1201 did the rest. By formula, it promised about $20 million annually as long as the good times rolled.
Well, we know what happened, the lords of the universe on Wall Street stole the good times with the help of the deregulation fire storm in Washington they helped stoke with endless blather about the intelligence of free markets and its built in controls called moral hazard.
So, last year the legislature, under extreme lobbying pressure from tourism’s glitterati, couldn’t bring itself to eliminate funding, but they did manage to reduce it to $15.6 million under S 09-217. This year a little bigger hit is promised with funding reduced to $14.9 million under HB 10-1339. Inspired crisis lawmaking indeed!
But I have an even better idea, why don’t we let the tourism industry fund its own travel promotions? We’ll provide the landscape, free. The industry claims to bring in about $10 billion to the economy annually. Surely .2 percent of its gross for centralized promotion shouldn’t kill profits at the Brown Palace, Vail Associates, the Club at Cordillera, the Denver Broncos, the Broadmoor, Aspen Snowmass, Coors Brewing, or even Brewery Bar II. The list goes on endlessly, but you get the idea.
In fact, in the spirit of cooperation and to show we are not angry at being deceived once again by the economic elite, let’s spot them a year’s overhead, and fund $1 million for transition to tourism promotion through private enterprise, though we should would insist they move their offices from of the governor’s suites. That’s a little cheesy. How the industry funds itself in future years and to what degree should provide an indication of the value it saw in all those past handouts from you and me.
Should I mention that none of this nonsense about underwriting private business would be necessary if, over the years, the state supreme court had not revoked the clear language of our Constitution with one silly special interest exception after another until it has created a veritable mountain of exceptions making rubble of the Constitution itself?
Don’t’ take my word for it. See for yourself, especially if head scratching excites you. Read Article V, Section 25. Special legislation prohibited and Section 34. Appropriations to private institutions forbidden. Then move right on to Article XI, Section 2. No aid to corporations. Perplexed? Are you starting to wonder if the black-robe crowd is reading the Constitution without benefit of light, internal or external? What other explanation is there? Certainly chumminess in high places couldn’t factor in.
After all, they’ve all taken a vow, a sacred vow.
I suppose we could wait for some enterprising populist under the Dome to force a referendum unto the ballot insisting the Constitution’s injunctions against payola to private interests be observed, but we’d probably be better served if we did it ourselves through the initiative process. That, folks, is our Constitutional right to direct democracy so fretted over by the legislature and the Denver Post for its messiness. Give me some messiness. I think it’s time.
PHILLIP DOE lives in Colorado. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org