A Lesson in Federalism from Rural Colorado

I received my Colorado Primary ballot in the mail yesterday and on it is an interesting additional item from the City of Alamosa.

Question 2A:

Shall City of Alamosa Ordinance Number 4-2010, which authorized the execution and delivery of a lease purchase and sublease agreement and other documents and actions in connection with financing the City’s municipal complex project without raising taxes or instituting any new tax, become effective?

So, why should anyone outside of Alamosa care? Let me give you a little background.

The current city hall is also the local library and the main location for the Alamosa Fire Department. The building has a couple of problems. First of all, it’s too small for the needs of the city. Second, the city would like to expand the library but there isn’t room in the current building. Third, the city council chambers are too small to hold the crowds they get when controversial items are discussed and it’s not ADA compliant. (The chambers are on the second floor with no elevator in the building.) There is definitely a need for something to be done.

In fact, the city has several options. The first is to build a new municipal complex. Second, the city could use an building that has been vacant since K-Mart closed. Third, the city could take over one the elementary school building that are about to become obsolete with the completion of a new school complex. The city council choose the first option.

The city’s choice wasn’t especially popular but it wasn’t the choice itself as much as how it was financed. Here’s how the opposition group, Alamosa Has Options, describes the deal.

The City of Alamosa is using a “loophole” discovered by a very smart attorney some time back, to use Certificates of Participation (see bottom of document for actual definition) to fund items without having to ASK the people in a vote, if they want to incur the debt.

Basically what happens is the city sets up a DUMMY CORPORATION, which then borrows money to finance the project. The City has to pay back the corporation from money from the existing budget, resulting in cuts of city services. The corporation then has to repay the lenders or certificate holders who initially lent the money.

This violates the spirit, if not the text of TABOR and the $700,000 per year payments on the lease will certainly impact the city. That brings us back to the ballot question.

You see, when the citizens of Alamosa saw what the city council did, the exercised a rarely used provision in the city charter that allows a citizens to file a petition to bring the ordinance before the voters. The petition was certified and the question was put on the primary ballot.

So, why should anyone outside of Alamosa care? Simple. This is a perfect example of why legislation should be done as close to the people as possible and why Federalism works. When legislators at the city or county level pass legislation, the voters of those localities can overrule the legislature. That also true of most states. It provides a direct check on the governments. Any legislature that tries to legislate against the will of the people run the risk of that legislation being overruled by the people. That’s not an option at the Federal level.

There is nothing the people can do directly to overturn Federal legislation. At most, citizens can throw out the Congressmen who passed the legislation in the first place. That can be a relatively quick change in the House but it takes a long time to turn over the Presidency and the Senate. Even then, there’s no guarantee that those who were elected will overturn the law. That’s especially true if the offensive law gives the government more power and/or sets up a new entitlement.

Americans need to start electing legislators who will not just repeal ObamaCare; they need to elect people who will start repealing almost all Federal laws. If the people of a state want burdensome taxes to pay for an ever increasing welfare state, they are welcome to vote for one in their state. The rest of us will enjoy our prosperity.

Originally posted at PerlStalker’s Ramblings.