For one member of the Denver City Council, the record-breaking billion dollar tax hike set for the statewide ballot this November is not quite enough.  Chris Herndon, a councilman from northwest Denver, wants his colleagues on the council to approve an additional November ballot measure to increase the city’s sales tax to fund college scholarships for Denver Public School graduates.

Herndon hopes to empty Denver consumers’ pockets to the tune of $11 million per year to supplement a private charity that has burned through 31% of its principal in six short years since its founding, despite raising millions of dollars per year from some of the state’s most generous private donors.  Where is this money going?

In 2006, Vonoco co-founder Timothy Marquez and his wife made a $50 million donation to seed the Denver Scholarship Foundation, and since then the foundation’s events have attracted the support of many of the state’s most influential politicians and philanthropists.  According to the Denver Post, the foundation’s “total net assets” have dwindled to $34.5 million as of June 2012.

Obviously this burn rate is unsustainable for the charity, and we are shocked that those controlling the purse strings have allowed such a generously-funded foundation to slip this far so quickly, but raising taxes to support a private charity such as this is absurd.  Even Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, one of DPS’ most outspoken cheerleaders and a strong supporter of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, was tepid in his response to Herndon’s idea.

“I’m real concerned about the impact on those future efforts that are going to have to occur within the next few years.  And there is the question whether this is the appropriate vehicle to finance those scholarships. We are taking a serious look at the legislation now and will make a determination real soon.”

With federal taxpayers pouring record amounts of funding into Pell Grants, countless existing scholarship programs aimed at disadvantaged youth, and a possible state income tax hike to add nearly $1 billion a year to the state’s K-12 budget, we cannot see how such an unprecedented proposal has any chance of becoming law, nor should it.

The Denver Scholarship Foundation’s mission as a private foundation is a noble one, but it needs to remain a private charity, not another ward of the state.  We don’t think that Herndon’s bad plan is something that the foundation’s founders and board ever intended, and it certainly is not something that our already stretched taxpayers can afford.