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Simplifying the political lingo in Denver's 2021 Blue Book

The Blue Book explains ballot issues, details the financial implications and provides arguments for and against. It's also wordy and a little complicated.

DENVER — Denver's version of the Blue Book has hit mailboxes ahead of the November 2 election.

The Blue Book explains the ballot issues, details the financial implications and provides arguments for and against.

They provide an opportunity to understand wordy and legal-sounding ballot language, but they're not quite simple enough.

"In Denver, ballot questions are written by bond lawyers who use Latin and 'legalese' to cover every single base and every single potential lawsuit that's out there. We can do better," said former Denver city attorney Scott Martinez.

Denver's ballots are printed in both English and Spanish, and after seeing how long the ballot issues are in both languages, we asked Martinez for help shortening the ballot questions to one sentence.

Here's how Referred Question 2A appears on the ballot:

SHALL THE CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER DEBT BE INCREASED $104,040,000, WITH A MAXIMUM REPAYMENT COST OF $179,175,000, WITH NO EXPECTED INCREASE IN THE CITY’S CURRENT RATE OF TAXATION FOR GENERAL OBLIGATION DEBT SERVICE BASED ON THE CITY’S PROJECTED ASSESSED VALUE, THE PROCEEDS THEREOF TO BE USED FOR REPAIRS AND IMPROVEMENTS TO THE DENVER FACILITIES SYSTEM, WHICH MAY INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO:

• CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS, AND OTHER FACILITY REPAIRS AT DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS, BONFILS THEATER COMPLEX, DENVER MUSEUM OF NATURE AND SCIENCE, AND DENVER ZOO; AND

• PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION OF THE MAY BONFILS STANTON THEATER AT THE HISTORIC LORETTO HEIGHTS CAMPUS FOR USE AS A PERFORMING AND CULTURAL ARTS VENUE; AND

• RENOVATION OF AN EXISTING CITY-OWNED FACILITY INTO A YOUTH EMPOWERMENT CENTER; AND

• CONSTRUCTION OF TWO NEW LIBRARIES AND UPGRADING EXISTING LIBRARIES TO INCLUDE CHILDREN’S LEARNING AREAS, COMMUNITY SPACES, AND TECHNOLOGY LABS; AND

• ACCESSIBILITY IMPROVEMENTS TO DENVER FACILITIES FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES;

BY THE ISSUANCE AND PAYMENT OF GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS, NOTES, LOAN AGREEMENTS OR OTHER MULTIPLE FISCAL YEAR FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS, WHICH SHALL BE ISSUED OR INCURRED IN SUCH MANNER AND CONTAINING SUCH TERMS NOT INCONSISTENT HEREWITH AS THE CITY MAY DETERMINE (THE EXPENDITURE OF THE PROCEEDS THEREOF TO BE PUBLICLY REPORTED BY THE CITY ON AN ANNUAL BASIS); AND SHALL CITY AD VALOREM PROPERTY TAXES BE INCREASED WITHOUT LIMITATION AS TO RATE BUT BY NOT MORE THAN A MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF $19,250,000 ANNUALLY IN AMOUNTS SUFFICIENT TO PAY THE PRINCIPAL OF, PREMIUM, IF ANY, AND INTEREST ON SUCH FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS OR TO CREATE A RESERVE FOR SAME; AND SHALL THE CITY BE AUTHORIZED TO ISSUE FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS TO REFUND OR REFINANCE SUCH FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS AUTHORIZED IN THIS QUESTION, PROVIDED THAT SUCH REFUNDING FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS WHEN COMBINED WITH OTHER OUTSTANDING FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS AUTHORIZED IN THIS QUESTION DO NOT EXCEED THE MAXIMUM PRINCIPAL LIMITS OR REPAYMENT COSTS AUTHORIZED BY THIS QUESTION?

And now here is how it can be simplified.

"If I were explaining this to my kids who are going to be voters in just a couple of years, I would tell them, what the city is asking: 'Can the city borrow $104 million to pay for necessary city improvements, without raising your taxes, and there's going to be some interest on top of that. Is that OK?'"

Here's how that would look in Spanish:

"¿Puede la ciudad pedir prestados $104 millones para pagar las mejoras necesarias de la ciudad, sin aumentar sus impuestos, y habrá algunos intereses además de eso? ¿Está bien?"

Referred Questions 2B, 2C, 2D and 2E are just as wordy as the all caps 2A you see above. Here are the shortened versions.

Referred Question 2B in one sentence:

"Without raising your taxes, can the city borrow $38.6 million dollars, plus interest, for homeless shelters?"

"Sin aumentar sus impuestos, ¿puede la ciudad pedir prestados $38.6 millones, más intereses, para refugios para personas sin hogar?"

Referred Question 2C in one sentence:

"The city is asking if it can borrow money for transportation."

"La ciudad está preguntando si puede pedir dinero prestado para el transporte."

Referred Question 2D in one sentence:

"Can the city borrow some money to pay for parks and rec?"

"¿Puede la ciudad pedir prestado dinero para pagar los parques y las actividades recreativas?"

Referred Question 2E in one sentence:

"Can the city borrow $190 million dollars, plus interest, for a 10,000 seat arena and public market at the National Western Campus?"

"¿Puede la ciudad pedir prestados $190 millones, más intereses, para un estadio de 10,000 asientos y un mercado público en el National Western Campus?"

Even Martinez had trouble reading through Denver's bond issues 2A through 2E.

"I went to law school, and I still had to get out my Latin dictionary," said Martinez.

Toward the end of the five bond issues is a reference to "ad valorem property taxes."

"'Ad valorem' means 'at the value.' It means a percentage, essentially, of the value of the thing that it is taxing, and the thing that we're talking about in Denver is your home. It is your property," said Martinez.

None of the bonding ballot issues (2A through 2E) will raise taxes, but the Latin reference essentially allows the city to float the assessment rate if voters in the future gives the OK for a higher limit.

Bottom line, here are the reasons the city wants to borrow money:

  • 2A: City improvements: Denver Zoo, Denver Botanic Gardens, restoring May Bonfils Stanton Theater at Loretto Heights, libraries
  • 2B: Homeless housing/shelters
  • 2C: Transportation: sidewalks, bike lanes, Morrison Road Arts District, urban trail walkway around Denver
  • 2D: Parks and Recreation: Parks, playgrounds, pools and public bathrooms
  • 2E: National Western Campus: 10,000 seat arena and Public Market

Ballots get mailed to voters starting on Friday.

WATCH: Why can't Denver's ballot questions be written in plain language?

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