Colorado Springs: City of the future?February 18, 2010Jon Brooks 17 Comments »
This article from the Denver Post a couple of weeks ago about the dire financial straits the city of Colorado Springs finds itself in has touched off quite a debate on the Web. The city, a Republican stronghold and bastion of anti-tax ideology, voted against an amendment last year to increase its extremely low property tax rate. Now, the city has had to drastically cut services.
From the Denver Post article:
This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.
More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.
The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.
Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.
Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.
City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won’t pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need…
Voters in November said an emphatic no to a tripling of property tax that would have restored $27.6 million to the city’s $212 million general fund budget. Fowler and many other residents say voters don’t trust city government to wisely spend a general tax increase and don’t believe the current cuts are the only way to balance a budget.
To sum up the two types of responses to this situation, schadenfreude on the left at the adversity of what some call a conservative laboratory experiment in municipal government gone awry, and defensiveness on the right at singling out anti-tax policies for the city’s problems.
To plunge right into the argument, listen to an extremely interesting debate between radio host and blogger David Sirota and libertarian Colorado Springs city councilman Sean Paige.
And here are two good representatives from the left and the right, the first from Paige himself, who also runs Local Liberty Action, a non-profit organization “established to celebrate and perpetuate the limited government ideals that made the United States a bastion of freedom, opportunity and prosperity.” The second is by Bill Egnor, a Colorado progressive, on the community blog The Seminal on Firedoglake.com.
The rest of the story by Sean Paige
The real news isn’t that Colorado Springs is suffering through a budget crunch — that can be said for just about every city in the United States right now. The real story here — the story I keep trying to convey to reporters who call me, the story that truly merits national attention — is how average citizens and non-governmental entities step in to fill the void left when city services are threatened. Steve Immel’s one-man initiative to help with parks maintenance, highlighted in Daniel Chacon’s City Desk blog, offers one case in point. But there are dozens more I could point to (and that I do point to when I get a call from some out-of-town reporter, who only seems interested in our darkened street lights and homeless camps).
But even some local reporters can miss the story, though it’s right under their noses. Wednesday’s report in The Gazette about the partnership initiative had virtually nothing to say about the success stories that were reported at the Tuesday event: about the fact that friends groups have raised nearly enough funds to keep the Starsmore Center and Rock Ledge Ranch open through the year; that our aquatic centers are working with USA Swimming to come up with a new operating model: that local organizations and activists are stepping up to help our community centers through the crisis. The Gazette focused almost exclusively on the fundraising aspects of what’s happening (and our supposed “pleading” for more money), though that is a secondary focus for me and only one small part of what’s happening.
The Independent’s Adrian Stanley understands this, resulting in the top-notch piece of reporting on the partnership efforts published today. But that’s because Adrian has taken the time to study the issue, attend the meetings, get to know the people who are rolling up their sleeves to get involved. Give the piece a look, Gazette — maybe you can find some story leads.
There are two stories we can tell about Colorado Springs. The one the national media has focused on so-far is a gloom-and-doom story of draconian budget cuts — a cautionary tale about the municipal Armageddon that awaits cities that have relatively low taxes and vote predominantly Republican, according to the simplistic analysis of liberal reporters and pundits. Or we can provide a more balanced, positive and (in my view) accurate picture, of a city that’s confronting fiscal adversity with creativity, innovation and the can-do spirit of average citizens — people who, like Steve Immel, are stepping up to fill the void.
The problem is that some city leaders (and some on city staff) are so heavily invested in sky-is-falling thinking and rhetoric (which they used to try and sell an unsuccessful tax hike) that they can’t change gears and get with the new program. We’ve been beating up on ourselves so much in Colorado Springs that we’re reluctant to fight back when outsiders join in on the beating, in order to make some lame political point. This self-defeating sort of thinking is the biggest single barrier to getting us safely through this crisis.
Colorado Springs, TABOR, Reductio Ad Absurdum by Bill Egnor
There is a tendency in political arguments to take things to their logical, yet absurd conclusion and then argue about that being a bad idea. This is called reductio ad absurdum. It tends to be a bad way to argue, since most of the time things do not get to their absurd and logical conclusion in real life. However, in Colorado Springs we have a real life example of things going to the level of the absurd.
For those who don’t live in Colorado or don’t follow the whole “Tax Payers Bill of Rights” (TABOR) movement I need to set the stage a little bit. There is a this very conservative fellow by the name of Douglas Bruce. Old Dougie is more than a bit of a nutter about taxes. He and Grover Norquist have the same idea,namely, that the government never spends money well and should always be starved of all the money possible, at every turn
TABOR being passed, first in Colorado Springs, then state-wide in Colorado. One of the provisions of TABOR is that tax revenue cannot be increased except by the popular vote of the people, beyond the rate of inflation plus the rate of population growth. Beyond that limit the State or the City has to return any revenue they have collected.
That would be bad enough, but TABOR is based on the previous year, so if we have a recession like the one we are in, and revenues fall, then the next year the City or the State has to start from that lower limit. They can’t stay where they were the previous year and to raise anymore revenue requires a popular vote.
You can see where this is going. When there is a long term recession, revenues fall, and then the next year there is even less to start with. This is where the City of Colorado Springs is now.
Last summer the City knew it was in trouble. They had to cut out the health inspections of pools and day care centers, because there was not enough revenue. They put the idea of raising taxes before the people and the anti-tax crowd in the Springs, lead by Douglas Bruce not only defeated it, they managed to unseat some incumbents on City Council who had proposed the increases and campaigned for them.
Fast-forward to February 2010 and the City is in real trouble. How much trouble? Check out this from the Denver Post today;
More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled. The parks department removed trashcans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter. Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.
This is where reductio ad absurdum meets the real world. Now you would think that at the point where your city is turning off half the lights, where it will stop paving roads, where it will let the parks die (and if you don’t water and care for parks in Colorado in the summer they are going to die) the people would be getting pissed to the point where they raise taxes and get the revenue, right? Not so much. More from the Post:
Voters in November said an emphatic no to a tripling of property tax that would have restored $27.6 million to the city’s $212 million general fund budget. Fowler and many other residents say voters don’t trust city government to wisely spend a general tax increase and don’t believe the current cuts are the only way to balance a budget. Community business leaders have jumped into the budget debate, some questioning city spending on what they see as “Ferrari”-level benefits for employees and high salaries in middle management. Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each.
This is the kind of thinking that the anti-tax crusaders engage in. Even though they know their city is going to be dark and dangerous and ugly they still can’t seem to get it through their heads that they can’t treat it like a business which hires part time people. They would rather have the second largest city in the State of Colorado go down the toilet than raise taxes even a little. We are talking about a 22 million dollar shortfall here, not billions, in a city of more than 300,000 people.
It would be funny if it were not so sad. This entire situation is a real life example of following things to their absurd conclusions. The TABOR crowd has had a strangle hold on the very conservative city of Colorado Springs for years and now they are on the verge of strangling it to death.
If anyone needs an example of what the (Hair) Club for Growth wants for America, you need look no further than Colorado Springs. This is not an unintended consequence, this is not a bug of their plan; this is a feature and the future for any State or City that votes for this insane legislation.
The floor is yours.