2010.02.06

Cutting Services

I read this article and my first thoughts were, “Holy shit!”

COLORADO SPRINGS — 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.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I came to appreciate what was happening, especially in places where people are averse to taxes. “You don’t want to pay taxes, then here are the consequences.” I think this is pretty much what the state of California needs to do. You don’t want to repeal Prop 13? You want to keep heaping on voter initiatives that cost the state money? Then you will have to deal with the consequences and, like Colorado Springs, it will be painful.

2 Comments Categorized: political  thoughts

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2 Responses to “Cutting Services”

  1. douglas.nerad » We Love You, Too! says  (February 13th, 2010 at 12:33:38 )

    […] to try and lure businesses away from CA and over to CO, but in fact I think it was simply to show budgetary solidarity with […]

  2. Nob Hill Ken says  (February 13th, 2010 at 13:34:44 )

    Taxation is a sticky issue. Tax is necessary, but there are are many reasons to not want to pay it, some valid, some purely self-serving.

    I’d like to actually *see* the historical budget and cash flow for Colorado Springs over the last 10 years…it could be that funds have been horribly mismanaged. That would perhaps explain why the locals are reluctant to pony up more dough. As well, elected officials’ salaries are mentioned in the article you link to, and that’s not insignificant.

    As well: Does Colorado Springs have significantly more or less money than cities of similar size, circumstance and composition? Are those other cities also experiencing fiscal crises? If so, then maybe people just need to suck it up and pay more; if not, then perhaps while the budget deficit is undeniably real, the “crisis” is manufactured.

    Part of the problem is a lack of government accountability for its spending. Saying taxes must be paid and pointing to (or, if you run Colorado Springs, cutting) essential services doesn’t directly address either fiscal responsibility or whether the will of the taxpayers has been followed…though it is an easy way to divert attention from all sorts of non-essential spending.

    I think it’s both feasible and desirable for a burg the size of Colorado Springs to involve its public in the budgeting process to a certain degree. My instinct could be wrong (again, I don’t have the relevant facts and numbers), but I smell a rat when the local government cries foul on taxpayers in this case.

    Viewed broadly, the issue of the “will of the taxpayers” becomes far more vexing:

    On the federal and state levels, we have wars and overstuffed jails, which the conservatives consider necessary, but the liberals hate. Now take health and human services/welfare and reverse the ideological positions.

    Right now, spending is largely determined along partisan lines – whichever party is in office determines spending priorities. Not ideal, but certainly an entrenched part of the “American Way” that isn’t likely to change soon. What must change, however, is the way budgets are formulated, and specifically, what is considered “essential” vs. “discretionary”.

    Here’s (again) a broad example of what I’m talking about and how a compromise could be struck:

    Essential: Murderers have to go to jail while kids have to go to elementary/secondary school and eat lunch.

    Discretionary: Non-violent drug users have to go to jail while the government incentivizes (by providing cash and service benefits) a nearly unlimited number of children being born into poverty.*

    Not only are the discretionary items above unsustainable, they’re expensive and dumb. Think about it then next time someone suggests that your 30-odd percent effective tax rate just isn’t enough and asks for/attempts to extort more from you citing civic duty.

    * N.B.: I’m not suggesting aid to impoverished parents and their children is discretionary, just that which subsidizes those who choose to overpopulate irresponsibly.