As a reauthorization pitch for the half-cent fund begins, can Pueblo have an adult discussion about using its own sales tax?

This year could see Pueblo’s half-cent funds depleted in half as PEDCO pushes for a new building and if the City of Pueblo authorizes the Pueblo Convention Center expansion.

While PEDCO begins the long pitch for reauthorization of the half-cent fund.

All this in an election year where a majority of seats will be on the ballot.

The time is right to raise the questions that, quite frankly, many people in Pueblo are not asking. The critique, mind you not straight out criticism of economic development, is one I haven’t seen in any vein at all in publishing the PULP since January of 2012.

It bubbled up last year when Pueblo’s City Council attempted to use half-cent funds for infrastructure but ended in attack politics.

For the people of Pueblo, what you are owed is the media getting you answers to decide how you would like to see your tax dollars used. I believe it starts with some very direct questions.

Is the half-cent fund successful at improving Pueblo? Is it enough?

Many in Pueblo may not understand the intricacies of economic development, but they get how tough it is here. It’s very hard to balance the unemployment numbers, lack of opportunities and poverty levels and then say the current institutions are doing enough.

But when you ask pointed questions about the half-cent uses, any dissent usually runs into the argument that if it weren’t for PEDCO, Pueblo would be worse off.

PEDCO is very clear they are more than the half-cent fund. But perceptions tie them directly to the success and failures of the half-cent fund.

And the failures of the half-cent fund are a complicated mess of  unpaid loans, missed employment numbers, bankruptcy, and vacant buildings. But Jack Rink, executive director says, “These numbers don’t tell the whole story.”

What is that whole story and how exactly do you judge competence management of taxpayer’s dollars?

Is a primary job a success?

Every Puebloan gets it when economic development works. Take Vestas, right now Pueblo’s success story. It has created more jobs than expected and did so in the renewable energy business.

By that equation, Vestas employing 700 people above Pueblo’s median income is a success.

The mechanics of that success though, are rarely measured beyond income levels, taxes and utilities. What about profits, senior executive salaries, growth and expansion? Success should be defined not by 700 jobs but 7 Vestas-like companies creating 700 jobs.

Are profits shipped outside of Pueblo County?

Currently the half-cent fund has been used for two local businesses, Walter’s Beer and Solar Roast Coffee. Under the requirements of the half-cent language, these two businesses would need to produce something in Pueblo which is sold outside the region.

Solar Roast Coffee was allocated $100,000 with the agreement to hire 17 workers in time. And Walter’s Beer received $150,000 to hire 11 employees.

PEDCO has begun to focus on more local business and the amount used out of the half-cent fund is a fraction of the amount used for the large companies. With that thinking, for a fraction of the cost of a new spec building, Pueblo could invest in 8-10 businesses. Then, as those businesses grow they will provide additional capital.

Is the half-cent too protectionist?

Let’s just assume you wanted to roast your own coffee and distribute outside of Colorado. You would be ineligible from doing so because Solar Roast is a competitive business. What if tomorrow green chiles are in demand and the growers need millions in equipment to meet the demand. This isn’t allowed currently because local competition exists.

On the macro-level, the non-compete clause forces other businesses to look elsewhere and locals in an industry where this is just one other similar business are excluded for applying for development.

Is this a protectionist policy that, in theory, meant to be fair but at the same time discourages the ever elusive clustering of industry, and excludes Pueblo’s own tax payers?

Can you trust the media when we report on Pueblo’s economic situation?

Too often every article on Pueblo’s economic situation seems to turn into a pro- or anti-PEDCO position. Somehow asking the hard question is asking the attack question.

I hope the Chieftain, Kara Mason for us, the local TV stations, even KRCC’s news director will report on these questions and critique the analysis of each other. You know, journalism.

My fear is that the protection of a 1985 Pueblo has become more important than the reality of a 2015 Pueblo.