It’s a question that comes up every 6th penny cycle: What do you think the strengths and weaknesses are for bundling items on the 6th penny ballot? So what did elected officials and the public have to say?
“The strengths: You’re more likely to get a want passed if you stick it with a need. Weakness: You might not get it passed and the needs will suffer. I'm against bundling if they bundle needs with wants.
Tie projects together
that will benefit old and young, ie. parks and rec items with gardens and cop cars. This is also one of the reasons a rec center never gets approved: It’s pushed as a kids-only benefit rather than a community addition for all ages.”
|The Grand Conservatory at the Botanic Gardens is a 6th penny project.|
“Pros: Public safety projects don’t get tanked by being with lumped with amenities. Cons: Cheyenne residents screw the small towns.”
“I’m not a big fan at all. In fact, I hate it. It smacks of trying to bribe people to vote for stuff they don’t really want by packaging unpopular/unneeded stuff with things that everyone knows we need. Count me as a ‘no’ vote for those bundles, on principal if nothing else.”
“I don't like the bundling. I wanted to vote for some important things but didn't because they were bundled with wants.”
“I think the bundling is the worst part! There is something good in every bundle, but something I don't want to vote for in every bundle.”
“I oppose. Doesn't give voters the choice to support one special project and oppose another. Bundlers know the psychology: People will bite their tongues and vote ‘yes’ to get their one special project funded.”
“There is no strength. It’s a waste of time. It needs to be all or nothing, and the city and county need to work this out. It should not be done in an attempt to manipulate a specific outcome. But similar items should be bundled because of the nature of the items are related; then they should be considered together if it will leave part of a larger project incomplete. We also don't need to have a thousand items to vote on.”
“To bundle items, depending on what they are, can be good because you get more than one important item voted through at once or vetoed at once. In the case of the rec center that everyone says they want, it’s usually a bad thing because whatever they attach to it isn’t wanted.”
“If we don't bundle, the small cities would get nothing.”
“Well, it's a classic double-edged sword. Some critical items might not get any support, so you can bundle them with items you think have a better chance at passing. But I also think the ‘optics’ of bundling turns off voters generally, and a good project can go down in tandem with a particularly unpopular measure.”
“First call it what it is: a 1 percent tax.”
“Depending on how the items are bundled can seal their fate, even before the election. For instance, the last 6th penny election had monies to repair and or replace fire stations bundled with the rec center. Everyone knows what happened with that vote. The best way to present the items is to either have each item stand by itself or group them together by department or service. For instance, public services are grouped together, recreation items would be grouped together, road projects and so on.”
“Small towns won’t get shit! Who cares if Albin gets a fire truck or Pine Bluffs gets police cars?”
“Bundles are always a weakness. Like the rec center bundled with much-needed items. Of course it's going to get shot down. It's bullshit because most people don't want it. “
“Let us vote items individually.”
“Strengths, the ballot isn't bogged down with a million items. Weaknesses, if I agree with one thing, but not the other, I have no way of indicating that in my vote.”
“I wish they would bundle things differently than they have been in the past. I would like it to be more of a hybrid. Similar/popular items together. Highly contested items individually.”
“Strength - it's a way to get weak projects approved that wouldn't get approved if they were by themselves. Weakness - see above.”
“I absolutely hate bundling items. It’s a very transparent strategy to get things ‘voted for’ by making the vote the lesser of two evils.”
“In the past, the argument was to bundle so that the smaller communities wouldn’t lose out because they don’t have the voting power. But you only have to look at the last few ballots to see how badly that’s been abused.”
“It’s hard to feel sorry for the county residents when they want all the benefits of city living but don’t want to chip in for the costs. And, of course, we could advocate for a tax structure that didn’t make necessities like fire trucks an ‘optional’ item.”
“Most of the items on the 6th penny ballot should stand alone. I would also advocate for the first question on the ballot be for whether we should have the tax or not. There’s always enough items that get voted on that we always have the tax.”
“Maybe if people voted the tax down altogether and started seeing how that affected them negatively, they might start getting on board with paying a little tax and quit bitching about ‘high’ taxes.
I’m not a rec center activist for our town. People don’t utilize what we have.”
“The problem is that usually the two items bundled together have something cool to offer, but the other item usually outweighs the piece you want, so people just go without.”
“Nothing should be bundled.”
“I don’t see any strengths to bundling the 6th penny taxes because usually it's more cons then pros. If the bundles were to be in the same category, such as streets, sidewalks and Greenway, then definitely bundle that stuff. A weakness: Let’s say anything for the Downtown Development Authority, streets and building stuff that doesn’t concern the city public then screw that because the streets are important and any building not for the city isn’t. I feel the 6th penny tax should focus on one single item. If we spend all funds focused on one item, stuff will make an impact unlike putting a little here a little there. Like buying an iPhone, you have to buy more to get what others come with, i.e headphone and charger ports.”
“The only thing I have to add is that taxes only feel high when you don’t engage enough to hold the people who spend the money accountable for the value. Two examples I can think of are the quality of the roadwork done here (vs. say, Fort Collins; 5th penny) and the municipal pool expansion ( how crappy that was).”
“If there are items that can be bid under a single bid, it could come with cost savings, but mostly it’s a fricking game: Put things that people really want, then sneak in something that they don’t. So, if they really want these things, then they have to vote for the thing they don’t want to get what they really do want.”
“Put the 6th penny to better weather. Ha ha ha.”
“From talking to folks the past year, the 6th penny is total trouble due to the bungling of finances at City Hall. I will vote for it, but people are angry, and this could be a reelection issue for some in November.”
“They need to separate them. They know some are trash, which is why they bundle them. It’s our money; we should have more of a choice in how it’s spent.”
“Bundling doesn't make sense unless it is the same sort of projects bundled together. Fire stations and recreation centers aren't exactly the same things.”
“Pro: Projects that are alike get bundled together and can be addressed at once (i.e. water line repairs and upgrades). Con: Projects that are not necessary, or that people don't support, can be bundled with major maintenance projects that are needed.”
“Strength - under publicized or less ‘sexy’ projects have the opportunity to be funded when bundled with a priority project. Weakness - important community projects may be defeated if the other bundled projects are perceived as frivolous or unnecessary. It oftentimes appears the bundling is a strategic mechanism to influence results.”
“At the end of the day, the 5th penny tax is designed for the voters to give direction on operational expenses. The 6th penny is for projects beyond normal operation and maintenance. Every project is important to someone, but by bundling we skew the responses from the voters, thus continuing the feeling of ‘my vote doesn't matter.’ Educated voting by the voters on projects based on their individual merit would be my preference and would be reflective of the voting population.”
“I think it's both a pro and a con for bundling. Because if the bundling is strong, then it will pass. But if most of it is good and one is bad, it could affect whole bundle. But I’m pro bundler. Mostly bundling can be good if you bundle similar projects. Look at the 2017 6th penny projects, for example. They bundled an indoor turf area with new public safety radio systems. They also bundled a new gymnasium with the rehab of fire stations. Both failed due to public sentiments against new frivolous projects. Had the radio systems been bundled with the fire station rehab, the projects would have passed. You could have bundled the gym and turf, and they both would have failed.”
“I’m not a big fan of bundling projects. It seems folks are bundling lemons with apples. If you look at the proposition approval numbers, taxpayers are evenly divided for and against more public infrastructure projects. I suspect the next ballots cast for infrastructure projects will fail because of the controversy surrounding the municipal court project and the Christensen Road project. I also see that the Legislature is looking at making the 6th penny permanent and adding an optional 7th penny tax. Those changes will further disenfranchise voters from approving any new projects. The next propositions need to address improved services to the community rather than building monuments to our own excesses. My two cents.”
“I’m opposed to the 5th and 6th penny always. Burn the whole docket.”
“Weakness is the same as its strength. It can be manipulated by what items are paired up with.
The city needs to quit screwing around with its projects. Christensen down to two lanes is an example. Could one of the eastern Laramie County put repairs of a dilapidated park on the ballot or would it be considered a want?”
“Bundles shorten the ballot, preventing fatigue.”
“Bundles provide some protection for small communities. The fear is that if they aren’t bundled, Cheyenne residents won’t support Albin/Burns/Pine Bluffs needs.”
“Bundles prevent people from voting on individual items. They support four of the five items. They either have to make a choice to vote for all five or vote no because of one item.”
“The strengths of bundling favor the government and not the people. It forces people to vote ‘yes’ even if there are things they don’t like. It also gives government the power to spend as it pleases on the items it is most interested in and not what the people are most interested in. I am not a fan of bundled items in the ballot; it gives government more control than it deserves.”
“I think the theory of bundling so that Pine/Burns/Albin don't get shut out is a good one, and in practice it has mostly worked. I think the idea of having like with like is good practice, also. Having participated in the process of deciding what goes on the 6th penny ballot (several times), I think there is an arbitrary aspect to that selection: If there is not a strong cheerleader for a project, it's not considered a priority. The Christensen Overpass project sat waiting for 28 years after approval as a needed piece of infrastructure by the City Council as an unfunded mandate, even for design. Now the costs have gone up and need has outstripped city planning. I watched several cycles as this project was dropped from the final ballot in favor of feel-good projects, albeit deserving on their own. There seems to be an unwritten/unspoken rule that the council/commissioners are afraid to exceed some set dollar amount for fear that all will then be rejected.”
“But, the biggest failing is that the public is not well informed about the process, the projects or even the fact that this does not raise taxes that we have already been paying for decades. There is a very vocal group intent on making people believe that by not voting they will somehow eliminate the 6th penny tax, disregarding that this would be catastrophic to our area. The very people who understand all of the process and the projects the best, the commissioners and the council-folk, are effectively prohibited from indicating whether they support a particular project or any problems that they see. The paper and news make a token effort, but without being paid, they don't dig much into the matter. The supporters who try to educate why they support a project and encourage support — putting the money where their mouth is and paying to educate — are vilified in the community as self-serving.
All this just goes to show you that this debate is contested. Imagine if the county commissioners actually left the city out of future discussions. That would be interesting.
Richard Johnson is a former City Council member from Cheyenne’s east side.