Colorado’s November ballot is going to be a crowded one. Not only will we be voting on statewide offices like Governor and Attorney General, but we will likely have many ballot issues to consider. Among those issues may be one seeking to put the ultimate control of corporate development in the hands of cities and not the state.
The Colorado Community Rights Network plans to place the Right to Local Self Government Act on this year’s ballot. The act would allow cities to ban particular industrial activities that they feel pose a danger to the health, welfare or safety of the community.
The act is considered to essentially allow cities to ban fracking, but like any amendment to the state constitution, it can have far greater implications. It is also a sign that there is growing tension among cities wanting to override the authority of state government.
However, even though the growth of fracking in Colorado has brought the idea of local control into tighter focus, if local control truly trumps state authority, many communities may find it brings unforeseen problems.
By expanding the idea of local control beyond just fracking, the Right to Local Self Government Act would allow cities a wide berth of what kinds of industry they could ban. The unforeseen problems are not necessarily with the bans themselves, but how the cities are able to attract new business to their cities that they do not wish to ban.
When cities hold the cards, state government would be limited in how it could negotiate to attract big business. State leaders can create better tax breaks and overall deals because of the ability to negotiate on a wider level.
Perhaps there are communities that are okay with losing out on some bigger businesses if they had the authority to ban what they felt like. But I would encourage caution with that intention based on the experience of my hometown.
I grew up in Wheat Ridge, a tiny suburb west of Denver. The city has always prided itself on being a small town and rarely pursued big business tax bases in my youth. Throughout my childhood I watched Arvada and Lakewood, on the north and south borders of Wheat Ridge respectively, grow their tax bases exponentially with business development.
When the time finally came a few years back when Wheat Ridge finally wanted to grow and capture a big box store to boost the tax base, they were quickly outmaneuvered watched that same store be built in Lone Tree, sending millions in taxes to some other city.
Did local authority doom Wheat Ridge? No. But did the idea that they could simply deny big business development whenever they felt like and simply make it happen when it was convenient lead to major problems? That answer is far easier to see.
Local control also means local responsibility. If you are okay with deciding what can and cannot be built in your neighborhood, you are also okay with deciding how to attract business with no one’s help.
If communities want to pursue local control, then they have every right to. And I can certainly understand the issue when you limit it to just fracking. However, when you expand the idea to nearly anything under the sun, voters will need to proceed with eyes open.
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– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.