Miller Hudson

Fewer than one in three registered Colorado voters bothered to cast a ballot in 2021’s off-year elections. If low-information voters were simply willing to leave ballot decisions for their better-informed neighbors, it seems likely many residents may be reaching a point where they prefer not to be dragged into partisan policy wars. By contrast with the intrinsic assumption of TABOR that voters yearn to approve every jot and tittle of tax and spending policy, there may be a growing presumption these decisions are best left in the hands of elected officials.

If legislators become spendthrifts, they can always be recalled or replaced at the next election. Recent polling finds public opinion has arrived at a new low where only 20% express confidence that Congress can be relied on to do the right thing. Party leaders’ approval rate is in the single digits. It seems likely state and local governments might earn a higher score but nothing approaching 50%. Democracy is meant to deliver services that satisfy a majority of citizens. “Headed in the wrong direction…” clocked in, nonetheless, at 70% last month in a Pew survey. Political priorities at all levels of government have become increasingly disconnected from the personal priorities of parents, residents and businesses.

Occasionally an anecdote better serves to portray the contempt toward citizens that earns government well-deserved loathing in return. Several weeks ago, I met a friend downtown for lunch in Larimer Square. I dutifully pre-paid for two hours parking only to return to my meter an hour and fifteen minutes later to find every vehicle on the 1500 block of Arapahoe Street ticketed. What was our offense? As you may have noticed bike lanes have been placed between the curb and parking meters along many downtown blocks and parking slots are now 10 or 12 feet out from the curb. Apparently, city ordinance 54-436 (D) imposes a $25 fine when your passenger side tires so much as touch the painted line separating a vehicle from the bike lane.

What made this ticket particularly galling was the fact that the bike lane was closed at the end of the block for construction and couldn’t be accessed by cyclists in any case. This hadn’t stopped Denver from scooping up $300-400 per block in fines (probably several times daily). This is little more than a revenue harvesting racket. Meter fees are reportedly scheduled to be doubling soon. Looking back a decade to the Mayor’s race of 2011, all candidates participated in a debate at the Westin Hotel where a citizen asked their opinion of the recent doubling of residential street sweeping fines by the Hickenlooper administration from $25 to $50 dollars. Each candidate, including now Mayor Hancock, said they would repeal the increase — returning the fines to $25. The questioner pointed out that, unlike ordinances aimed at visitors and commuters, this one primarily penalized Denver voters. They agreed.

If you live in Denver and need to park on the street, you tend to get caught once or twice a year. The $25 fine was a nuisance but served as a reminder to be more attentive the following month. $50 feels like a rip-off and must be a hardship for many. Consequently, I approached Doug Linkhart after the election during the summer of 2011, once he’d been appointed Mayor Hancock‘s environmental czar. I reminded him of his boss’s debate commitment to reverse the street sweeping increase. Also, a Mayoral candidate, Doug clearly recalled the debate promises and committed to check on any plans for a change. A few weeks later he called me back and, somewhat embarrassed, indicated the new fines were bringing in far too much money for the city to surrender its newfound revenue.

Particularly annoying is the fact that when it snows in October or May, tickets are issued even when no attempt is made to sweep wet streets. Tough luck for residents. I’m sure the same will prove true for the bicycle lane ordinance. I decided to visit the parking referee’s hearing room in the Webb building, where you can occasionally cajole them into reducing (never dismissing) your fine. The city has shut down in-person appeals because of COVID. When I called their toll-free number, I waited 45 minutes serenaded by a repeated assurance that my call was very important before eventually hanging up. Denver received my twenty-five bucks before the fine doubled to $50. And politicians wonder why they aren’t admired?

Denver public works also allows developers and their construction projects to block entire lanes of heavily traveled arterials for months on end — ignoring peak period traffic congestion. I’ve brought this favoritism to the attention of my new council member following every election for forty years. Same answer. Permits bring in too much money. Whose convenience do they think they are protecting? Certainly not mine.

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former Colorado legislator.

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former Colorado legislator.

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