Friday, September 3, 2010

Out of Pocket, Out of Power

As someone who made all the wrong career choices, I never have to worry about the problem of owning a second home, and especially not one in Aspen. Even owning a "first home" is challenge enough for me. As such, I wasn't until now aware that second-home owners in Colorado don't have the right to vote on property tax increases, like the rest of us do. TABOR protections just don't apply to them. But that would change, apparently, if Amendment 60 is approved by voters.

The possibility that out-of-towners would get the right to vote on property tax increases has Aspen officials all aflutter. The town's permanent residents, who pretty much have their way on most matters, since 61 percent of Aspen's homes are empty most of the year, worry that extending TABOR protections to part-timers will mean relinquishing power over tax policy. A local minority would no longer rule supreme over the absent majority.

As today's Aspen Times explains:

"Second-home owners in Pitkin County have long been concerned that they are being taxed without representation because they are forced to pay for mill levies and tax increases that are approved by full-time residents.At the same time, many second-home owners do not reap a large amount of public services from entities such as the Aspen School District and others which receive that tax revenue.

But the city has said that allowing part-time residents to vote would be a bane on those public services. With a new voting population that likely would oppose tax increases, it could be harder to pass fees for special programs.

Amendment 60, which would also impose several stringent limits on the government's ability to implement new special district fees and taxes, echoes a 1992 Constitutional amendment that placed broad tax caps on state governments and required that voters approve all proposed tax increases."

I've always wondered why such nutty things go on in affluent enclaves like Aspen. One obvious explanation is that a minority of taxpayers is making all the taxing and spending decisions, on which a majority of taxpayers must remain silent. It's always easier to get a little crazy when most of the cost of that craziness gets shouldered by someone else. The part-timers are wealthy people, who may be able to shrug-off the regulatory or tax burdens that are imposed on them in their absence. But that doesn't make it right.

Even wealthy out-of-towners should have a say on what property taxes they pay. Anything else is taxation without representation.

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