BY FREDA MIKLIN
On June 13, Common Sense Institute held its regular Eggs & the Economy breakfast meeting, where it delves into topics affecting Colorado businesses. This quarter’s meeting was called, “The Scramble,” because it covered multiple topics, including housing, employment statistics, legislation, and crime.
The event, which featured a panel consisting of Mayors Stephanie Piko of Centennial and Adam Paul of Lakewood, along with CSI Public Safety Fellow and former Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen, drew a full house of over 150 people to the AMG National Trust Bank in Greenwood Village.
Spotted in the crowd were business and non-profit icons Don & Linda Childears, political consultant Dick Wadhams, Mayors Mike Coffman of Aurora and George Lantz of Greenwood Village, Centennial City Council Members Christine Sweetland, Tammy Maurer, Mike Sutherland, Don Sheehan, and Mayor Pro Tem Rick Holt, Aurora City Council Member Françoise Bergan along with 2023 city council candidates Stephanie Hancock and Jono Scott, Lone Tree City Council Member Wynne Shaw, South Metro Fire Board Member Rich Sokol, CSI Board Members Dave Davia from the Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association, and Robin Wise, president and CEO of Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain Inc. Even Myron Spanier from the Arapahoe County Republican Breakfast Club showed up to listen to the speakers.
CSI Executive Director Kelly Caulfield opened the program by talking about recent legislation, including SB23-303, Reduce Property Taxes and Voter-approved Revenue Change, a method to reduce 2023 residential property taxes due in 2024 and subsequent years, which will require voter approval of Proposition HH in November. Caulfield said CSI, “will not take a position,” on the ballot issue, but “will educate voters on the complexity of the measure” to help them understand how it will impact their property taxes and future TABOR refunds if approved.
CSI Senior Economist Steven Byers, Ph.D., started off the conversation by asserting that crime last year cost Coloradans $30 billion in “tangible and intangible” costs, but did not expound on how they were calculated. Byers pointed to increased car insurance premiums, saying he “tried to estimate” how much they had gone up due to widespread car theft and he “came up with around $500 million.”
Byers next presented a chart showing that job growth in Colorado dropped precipitously when the COVID-19 pandemic began in early spring 2020, then picked up by mid-year, and rose steadily at a high rate until early 2022, when the rate tapered off to a slower, but still rising number, through May 2023.
In a separate report, CSI reported that, between June 2022 and May 2023, our state had an unemployment rate of only 2.8%, while the national rate was 3.7% as of May 2023, thus the slower job growth rate appears to coincide with relatively full employment in our state.
Byers pointed out that Colorado’s Labor Force Participation rate (LFPR) of 68.7% is “near pre-pandemic level,” but noted it is “six percent below” what it was in the year 2008, the year with
the highest level depicted on a chart he presented that went back 23 years. He attributed the lower LFPR in 2023 compared to 2008 to an aging workforce, “declining male LFPR,” and “transfer of wealth allowing for fewer workers.”
In the area of housing, Byers said that housing prices have increased 112%, including the cost of interest, during the past 11 years. One reason he pointed to was the lack of new housing being built, noting that, “Denver Metro needs to issue 26,000 to 37,600 building permits (annually) to close the housing deficit…by 2028,” while current projections are that 21,120 permits will be issued in 2023.
Later, on that same topic, Mayor Piko said, “In Arapahoe County alone, there are over 108,000 housing units already approved by local government. Why aren’t they being built?’” She noted costs have increased and local governments must be flexible. In Centennial, she said, “I have yet to see us not increase density when it’s been asked of us, in the appropriate locations in our city.” She pointed to Centennial’s ongoing comprehensive housing study that has included significant public input. She also noted that she planned to work with local legislators in the coming months to help craft a plan to be considered in the next session that could be acceptable to cities, unlike SB23-213, which failed, largely under the weight of local opposition.
On the topic of housing, Mayor Paul pointed to Lakewood’s 2019 citizen-passed 1% growth cap that was “punitive to those who want to densify.” He explained that the difficulty in getting anything approved after that passed caused the development community to lose interest in Lakewood, costing local jobs. HB23-1255, passed this year, removing the growth cap in Lakewood, Golden, and Boulder, was “a double-edged sword,” he said, because, although he did not support the growth cap, it was passed by voters, so moving forward will have challenges.
Both Mayor Piko and Mayor Paul said they expect their cities to opt into the affordable housing program outlined in Proposition 123, passed by the voters last year, that will provide state support for more housing.
On the topic of crime, Byers pointed to the inverse relationship, as depicted on the graph above, between the crime rate and the prison population in Colorado, going back to 2008. It shows that the period in which the crime rate began dramatically increasing as the prison population decreased largely coincided with the beginning of the pandemic, when many law enforcement officials attempted to whittle down the number of people incarcerated to minimize the impact of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus. Byers attributed the increase in car thefts, which began to spike in 2019, to a bill passed by the legislature in 2014 that made the theft of a vehicle worth under $2,000 a misdemeanor, compared to the theft of a vehicle worth more than $2,000 a felony. After seeing the rate of motor vehicle theft double between 2020 and 2022, the legislature passed SB23-097 this year, making all motor vehicle thefts, regardless of the value of the vehicle, a felony. Gov. Polis signed that bill, SB23-097, into law on June 2.
Byers also noted that in migration in Colorado has gone from third in the country in 2015 to 18th in 2022, though the data he presented shows it is still in positive territory.
On the topic of homelessness, no one had a solution and estimated costs varied. Caulfield said that CSI independently calculated that Denver spent $1.4 billion on homelessness between 2021 and 2023. She questioned what the city’s return on investment has been?
A report by the Denver Auditor in April 2023 estimated the city spent $13.7 million on homeless encampment response between January 2019 and June 2022 but noted, significantly, that the total is likely higher because the city doesn’t do a good job of tracking it, which required the Auditor to get information from 10 city agencies to prepare its calculation.
Mayor Paul said that Denver spent $245 million on homelessness last year, which is more than Lakewood’s entire budget. In Jefferson County, he noted, “We pay for a shelter for animals, but we don’t have one for human beings.” Still, he noted, “The option of just living on the street is not an option and we’re not going to allow it.”