Colorado is a beautiful place and it always ranks right at the top of those most desirable places to live rankings (heck, a new poll says the People’s Republic of Boulder is the happiest place in America), but be clear about one thing before you pack up the family to head this way: a consistent voting majority of our citizens are butt-stupid when it comes to taxes. We’re the ones who blazed the trail for the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” (TABOR) movement, and we’ve been paying a steep price for it ever since. For instance:
- Under TABOR, Colorado declined from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.
- Colorado’s average per-pupil funding fell by more than $400 relative to the national average.
- Colorado’s average teacher salary compared to average pay in other occupations declined from 30th to 50th in the nation.
- Under TABOR, higher education funding per resident student dropped by 31 percent after adjusting for inflation.
- College and university funding as a share of personal income declined from 35th to 48th in the nation.
- Tuitions have risen as a result. In the last four years, system-wide resident tuition increased by 21 percent (adjusting for inflation).
A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities last year summed it up nicely: TABOR Has Hampered Economic Growth and Reduced Quality of Life in Colorado. Responding to some pro-TABOR silliness bubbling up in Maine, the Center lays out some inconvenient details:
TABOR has, however, harmed Colorado’s economy since 2001, when TABOR prevented the state from recovering adequately from the recession. Incomes grew more slowly in Colorado than in Maine during the first half of the decade. Coloradans voted to suspended TABOR in 2005, but the state still has had trouble recovering. Overall, per capital personal income growth has been higher in Maine than in Colorado since 2000 – both in the post-recession period during which Colorado’s TABOR was in effect, and after its suspension.
Hang on to your hat, though. It just got better.
Welcome to Teabagger Paradise
It’s a shame about Colorado Springs. It’s a beautiful city, with spectacular mountain views, one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the nation and great microbreweries. Of course, it’s also home to Focus on the Family, the air wing of the Christian theocracy movement and one of the most notorious political pigfuckers in America, Douglas Bruce. It’s the kind of place where, if you don’t keep a close watch, the church down the street might kidnap your kids and baptize them without your permission.
Now, the Springs is also becoming the nation’s foremost case study on what happens when people decide that by god, they’re not going to put up with all those outrageous taxes anymore. Get a load of this:
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.
“I guess we’re going to find out what the tolerance level is for people,” said businessman Chuck Fowler, who is helping lead a private task force brainstorming for city budget fixes. “It’s a new day.”
Some residents are less sanguine, arguing that cuts to bus services, drug enforcement and treatment and job development are attacks on basic needs for the working class.
“How are people supposed to live? We’re not a ‘Mayberry R.F.D.’ anymore,” said Addy Hansen, a criminal justice student who has spoken out about safety cuts. “We’re the second-largest city, and growing, in Colorado. We’re in trouble. We’re in big trouble.”
Turn off the street lights and fire some cops, huh? Hard to imagine how that could go wrong.
I appreciate your concern, Addy, but the truth is that you’ve been in trouble since, oh, I don’t know, let’s call it 1992. That’s when the state let itself get Bruced. None of this is a surprise, though. It’s pretty much what smart folks have been warning you about since, oh, I don’t know, let’s call it 1992.
At the risk of sounding condescending or elitist, I can’t help thinking that this is the kind of thing that happens when a culture goes without education for too long. It’s kind of like when the fetus doesn’t get enough oxygen.
Teabagger paradise, indeed.
A Meaningless, Yet Emotionally Seductive Corrective
Here’s what I’d like to do. I want to get a microphone and a bat – maybe a nice 33-ounce Louisville Slugger – and head down to the fair city of Colorado Springs. I’ll go up to random people on the street and here’s how it will go:
Me: Excuse me, I’m conducting a man-in-the-street survey for FOX News. Do you have a moment?
Citizen: Of course! I get all my news about the world from FOX.
Me: First question. How do you feel about all your public services being discontinued?
Citizen: I think it’s ridiculous that people are so stupidly anti-tax that they’re willing to let such a beautiful city go to hell like this.
Me: Thank you. Have a nice day.
Citizen: I think it’s ridiculous. This is happening because of the liberals and their overpaid government bureaucracy.
Me: Next question. How did you vote on TABOR?
Citizen: I voted for it, of course.
At this point, I whip out the bat and club them like baby seals. (The microphone was just a prop, in case you haven’t figured that out already.)
Or not. When all is said and done, the most satisfying course of action will be to grab some popcorn, pull up a chair and enjoy the show. There are few things I enjoy more than watching stupid people reaping what they have sown (which explains my love of reality television, I suppose). What we’re seeing right now in the Springs are the first few scenes of a morality play. The question is whether or not the denizens of America’s foremost Anti-Tax Utopia are bright enough to figure out the moral: to wit, where taxes and services are concerned, 2 -2 = 0.
I doubt it. The smart money says that their solution will be to cut taxes. In fact, I’d put money on it.