EDITORIAL: Question about Aurora racetrack ban is really about local control

The question is about whether voters and their elected representatives should call the shots on this issue and others like it, or whether they want competing business and carpetbaggers to do that for them

Here’s the simple explanation about a fairly complex question coming to the Aurora ballot this November. Aurora voters were lied to and hoodwinked several years ago, and soon they will have a chance to rectify that.

The Aurora City Council this week approved a ballot question that would reverse a 1999 mandate prohibiting the city from providing incentives to race tracks.

Despite the targeted ban, this is really all about local control. This measure won’t ask voters whether Aurora should have a race-track, likes racing, likes subsidizing racing or really has anything to do with racing. The question is, should residents and their elected officials decide issues like this, or are outside city interests manipulating voters for their own benefit?

Here’s the more complicated part of why this measure is on the ballot again.

The ballot question deletes odious language in the city’s charter that Aurora voters were hoodwinked into in the late 1990s by out-of-state interests and other carpetbaggers. Aurora caught the attention of international racing officials back then. They were eager to get a part of the growing Front Range market. Aurora played with the idea of luring a NASCAR complex to vast tracts of empty land east of the city. At the same time, out-of-state and regional interests had opened the Pikes Peak International Raceway, south of Colorado Springs. It was an ill-conceived, ill-timed and sputtering racetrack project doomed to fail.

Eventually, it did just that, but not before that track’s owners pulled off a corrupt political stunt in Aurora. Owners of the track sought out two “local residents” to create a ballot initiative that would prevent Aurora from providing tax incentives or any “financial” assistance to any racing industry projects. In effect, it banned Aurora from allowing racing interests into the city. Track owners bankrolled a huge campaign to persuade off-year voters to keep from spending tax money on racetracks. It was a sham that made no sense on several levels, but unobservant voters fell victim to the ploy as critics were wildly outspent by Colorado Springs interests.

The ban passed, which is the only such ban on any kind of industry or tax incentives in Aurora. Since then, the Colorado Springs racetrack has become a near-vacant eyesore in the middle of nowhere.

Determined to undo this idiocy, Aurora asked voters in 2015 to undo the ban. Confusion reigned again, making some voters think this was a referendum on race tracks or corporate welfare, and it failed.

Here we go again. We’re back to the simple part. This is not a question of whether to build or finance a NASCAR project anywhere in Aurora. In our opinion, the likelihood of such a feat is almost non-existent as that industry struggles to hold onto what it’s got. And this question is not about using public money to finance commercial projects. We’ve long pushed against all business incentives, but each one must be evaluated on its own merits.

The problem is that the poorly written 1999 ban effectively would prevent the city from approving a project even if there weren’t one dime of taxpayer money supporting it.

The question is about whether voters and their elected representatives should call the shots on this issue and others like it, or whether they want competing business and carpetbaggers to do that for them.

You know the right answer.