The Chamber View: Votes for Economic Vitality
Scott J. Sternberg
Executive Director, Boulder Economic Council
As evidence of the synergy between investments in our economy that also advance general community interests, the recent election cycle carried several ballot initiatives that will either directly or indirectly impact our economic vitality. At the Boulder Chamber, we hear from our members about concerns ranging from the need to advance economic opportunity, housing affordability and workforce mobility, along with other issues impacting the business environment. As it turns out, and voters demonstrated, our residents share the same concerns and are willing to invest in effective solutions.
Let’s start with economic opportunity. The Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) is recognized statewide and nationally as an education leader. However, businesses tell us that the changing workplace requires them to place more emphasis on skills development. Passage of the school district’s new capital investment bond will support specific facility upgrades and enhancements that facilitate the success of BVSD’s new skills development program, Grad Plus. Through Grad Plus, students will now have expanded opportunities to engage in real-world projects that provide them with industry certifications and college credit. This improved connection between “traditional” academics and technical education will provide greater economic opportunity for those who choose a non-traditional education path.
Boulder businesses want to attract and retain a diverse, competitive workforce. Unfortunately, home ownership is beyond the means of more than 60% of our residents. The passage of Proposition 123 authorizes the state to commit 0.1% of all income tax (equivalent to an annual total of $300 million) to an affordable housing fund. This will provide local governments and nonprofits the opportunity to build 10,000 affordable homes per year, without raising taxes. Locally, these funds, obtained through a competitive process, will accelerate conceptualizing and developing attainable housing units. Through access to resources like those Proposition 123 generates, it is hoped that a higher percentage and greater diversity of our workforce will have the opportunity to reside in Boulder.
Passage of Ballot Issue 1C continues the successful 0.1% transportation tax that has built additional bike paths and trails, paid for road safety improvements, and made transportation more accessible and affordable for our elders and people with disabilities. Moreover, the funds this initiative unlocks can be used to secure significant future state and federal matching resources. As Boulder’s economy strictly depends on the safe and convenient mobility of nearly 70,000 in-commuters, further investment in our transportation infrastructure and programs is critical.
Wildfire mitigation and emergency response were also on the ballot this season. The Marshall Fire is sadly only the most recent example of the personal and economic devastation from climate-induced wildfires that continues to endanger our community. With the passage of Ballot Issue 1A, a modest tax increase will help prevent these dangerous events by funding “strategic forest and grassland management projects.” Local open space, streams, and mountainous areas draw both tourists and locals. Inevitably accidents happen. The passage of Ballot Issue 1B will provide much needed capital for emergency services in Boulder County, including facilities, equipment, and operational costs for search and rescue organizations.
None of these investments is without cost. In aggregate, this election will impose a significant additional financial burden on our local businesses. This includes certain voter-approved expenses our organization did not support. While this increased cost of doing business in Boulder will demand even greater scrutiny of future tax initiatives in the months ahead, the Boulder Chamber recognizes that the ballot measures described above constitute worthy investments in our economic vitality. Quite clearly, too, their passage is evidence of what we so often recognize: What is good for long-term business success, is also what is right for our community. We are thankful that the voters agree.