A ballot issue that mandates stagnation and recession? No thanks
Author: Mike Kopp - December 6, 2017 - Updated: December 6, 2017
Colorado is a welcoming, pro-business state. We have one of the best performing economies in the country, even when times are tough. When the Great Recession hit almost 10 years ago, for example, we bounced back faster and stronger than the rest of the nation.
That’s no accident. For decades, Colorado’s political and business leaders have forged a strong, bipartisan consensus in support of new jobs, new investment and new growth. Yes, there are pockets of anti-growth ideology in places like Boulder. But they are the exception, not the rule.
Unfortunately, however, there is a campaign to impose Boulder-style, anti-growth policies across huge swaths of the state. A statutory ballot measure introduced last month would enforce a one-percent growth cap — the same as in the city of Boulder — in 10 counties along the Front Range.
From El Paso County north to the Wyoming state line, local governments would be banned from growing more than one percent a year. The ban would be enforced by restricting the number of residential construction permits — the same regressive policy that has driven working families out of Boulder and other rich enclaves across the country like San Francisco.
But instead of one college town like Boulder, this initiative would raise housing costs and living expenses for 1.6 million Colorado households and almost three quarters of the state’s population.
The ban on growth above one percent would last at least two years, and could only be “amended or repealed by initiative and referendum,” according to the text of the proposed ballot measure. The measure would also pave the way for similar restrictions in other areas of the state.
The economic impact of this measure would be staggering. When a similar measure was proposed earlier this year in Lakewood, the state business community commissioned a study on its likely impacts. The study, called Building Gated Cities, put some numbers around what common sense already tells you — restricting the supply of housing drives up the cost of living.
The study predicted Lakewood households would lose $263 million in disposable income over 10 years due to the one-percent growth cap. Traffic would worsen as working families moved outside the city’s growth cap and drove longer distances to their jobs.
In Lakewood alone, a one-percent growth cap would also jeopardize more than $1 billion of investment in the economy, according to the study, which was conducted by the REMI Partnership. The partnership includes Colorado Concern, the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, Denver South Economic Development Partnership and the Colorado Association of Realtors.
These were the potential costs and consequences of a new one-percent growth cap in just one city, with a population of 155,000. The area immediately impacted by the statewide anti-growth ballot measure is 26 times larger in terms of population.
… a ballot measure sold to the public as a way to make life easier and more affordable would actually make life harder and more expensive.
In just two years, the statewide measure could wipe out 42 percent of projected new housing units and $7.8 billion in economic investment, according to estimates submitted to the Colorado Legislative Council by the REMI Partnership in advance of Title Board hearings this week. Construction employment would fall by 10 percent, stalling job growth across the state. And the anti-growth initiative would blow a sizeable hole in the state budget, potentially cutting revenue by more than $350 million over a two-year period.
These preliminary estimates don’t include the additional impacts on housing affordability, household budgets and any direct losses in labor supply. But it’s not hard to imagine what will happen to home prices, property taxes, mortgage payments and rents if the supply of housing along the Front Range is artificially capped: They will dramatically increase, hurting middle-class and working families the most.
In other words, a ballot measure sold to the public as a way to make life easier and more affordable would actually make life harder and more expensive.
We have seen this kind of thing before. In 2000, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups pushed a so-called “responsible growth” measure. It was a thinly veiled ban on new housing development and it was crushed at the ballot box 70 percent to 30 percent. If the new anti-growth measure makes the statewide ballot in 2018, Colorado’s business community will campaign hard for the same outcome.
I will be the first to grouse about our growing traffic congestion and the need for better road infrastructure across our state. But growth is not the enemy, and the alternatives to growth — stagnation and recession — are simply unacceptable. Any proposal to mandate these outcomes is reckless in the extreme and must never become law.