I’m proud to call Colorado Springs home for myriad reasons — quality of life, cost of living, terrific schools, physical beauty, Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy, and great cultural amenities. For starters. The city leans conservative to libertarian, but is no monolith. There are “progressives” and Big Business statists and everything in between. Most importantly, politics does not poison and saturate every breath of the people who live here. They do not live to work. They work to live — bike, run, ski, climb, hike, play, explore, and enjoy their families.
Taxpayers in the Springs also happen to want to keep more of their hard-earned money away from government’s paws. They want the government to make do with less. Just like everyone else.
Which has led liberal outsiders to decry the city as it grapples with tough economic times.
Colorado Springs is suffering through a severe budget crunch. In that, it’s no different than most American cities. The source of the problem isn’t the fact that we’re a bastion of Republicanism, or that we’re the birthplace of the Taxpayer’s Bill Of Rights (TABOR) or that we’re the home town of TABOR author Douglas Bruce. Things are tight because we’re a sales tax dependent city in the midst of an economic downturn. It’s really that simple. The problem is falling revenue, not TABOR spending limits or the dreaded “ratchet effect.” We might hit up against our TABOR limits in four or five years, if the economy begins booming tomorrow. But the city can ask voters to keep the excess revenues, if that happy day arrives. And it’s not unprecedented that they would say “yes,” contrary to caricature.
Voters could have helped the city out several months back, by approving a property tax increase. But they declined to write the city a blank check. Voters here are reluctant to approve tax hikes without detailed plans for what the new funds will be used for (which I see as a virtue, not a vice). And there were other factors at play, including widespread economic anxiety, the city’s controversial use of taxpayer money to buy the U.S. Olympic Committee a headquarters building and a sense that City Council (to which I was appointed late last year) is out of touch with average people.
…Colorado Springs is selling its police helicopters, as the Post reports. But they were only a year or two away from being grounded due to old age. Our relatively low crime rate makes them a luxury we can do without. Transit system hours have been reduced — but that’s because we grew the system beyond what was sustainable when we were flush with cash. A number of police and fire jobs will go “unfilled,” as the Post reports, but many were sparred the budget ax (despite the fact that the police and fire payroll constitute roughly 55 percent of the city budget).
[Liberal HuffPo columnist David] Sirota decries the “tent ghettos” that have sprung up, made up of what he calls “newly homeless residents,” all while “the city’s social services are being reduced.” But he’s just making stuff up. We don’t know whether the camps are populated by “newly homeless,” or the chronically homeless who are taking advantage of the city’s compassion. Unlike the cold-hearted caricature Sirota draws, we have allowed the camps to grow (grow out of control, in the eyes of many locals) out of humanitarian impulses. Many here believe it’s the abundance of social services (public and private) in Colorado Springs, not the lack, that’s making the town a magnet for the homeless.
Many of our parks may brown-up this summer (depending on the weather), for lack of water. But we’re working on ways to deal with that and a new city-county parks district is in the planning stages. Mowing parks every other week doesn’t constitute a citywide calamity.
Community centers, swimming pools and a number of other city-owned facilities have been granted three months funding, in the hope that we can find a more self-sustaining operating model. Many are forming promising new partnerships with outside individuals and organizations. The Denver Post focused on the possible closures, but declined to mention that several of the facilities already have found adequate private support a stay open, while others are making headway in that direction.
This is a city with above-average rates of volunteerism and charitable giving. We don’t look reflexively to government to do things citizens can do themselves. And we’re counting on that can-do spirit and civic-mindedness, along with a willingness to consider out-of-the-box solutions, to see us through this budget crunch.
…Downsizing city government is painful — but it’s made a little easier by the fact that we keep government in check to start with. Functions performed by government in many cities are performed by the private sector here. We have privatized garbage collection. Our excellent zoo and philharmonic, our Fine Arts Center and the World Arena, operate independently, with no taxpayer funding. Keeping government reined-in allows us to keep our taxes and cost of living relatively low, making this a city where people of modest means can live relatively well and reach for the American dream.
Self-reliance. Privatization. Thrift. Fiscal accountability.
The liberals in Denver and Washington could learn something from our Mountain West spirit if they could just get over their Colorado Springs Derangement Syndrome.