Economy

Welcome to Colorado Springs, America's teabagger paradise

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.

Also,

  • 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.

Oddly, while we’re near the bottom in national spending on public education, we lead the country in spending on prisons. I can’t imagine how those two factoids might be related, though. Can you?

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?

[Option 1]
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.

[Option 2]
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.

Any takers?

24 replies »

  1. Well, California still hasn’t dealt with the carnage from Proposition 13, and that was passed more than 30 years ago. So I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    OTOH, I’m with you on pulling up the lawn chair, grabbing a microbrew, and watching the parade pass by.

  2. Bonesparkle, I’m trying to understand TABOR (as a non-American)… according to your wikipedia link “It requires that increases in overall tax revenue be tied to inflation and population increases unless larger increases are approved by referendum.”

    My understanding of that is:
    i) “Overall” means the absolute cash value of taxes
    ii) “Overall” does not mean the absolute percentage of taxes paid on revenue/income/whatever

    Unless I’m misreading this. But clearly a given service costs a given amount. I appreciate the desire to avoid governments raising more money to finance new things, but an absolute is an absolute.

    Am I misreading this? Has Colorado basically confused a percent with an absolute and, as the tax base has shrunk with the recession, refused to increase the percent even though it would simply allow the maintenance of the absolute?

    That said, by how much would taxes have to increase to maintain the current level of spending? I imagine some accommodation is required, but this is probably a different debate…

      • Because, as you pointed out, the area is just plain gorgeous. And the crappy city will hurt tourist revenue some, which will drop city coffers even more (which is fine by me – poetic justice and all that) but will hurt state revenues some too.

        • NOOOOOO!!!!!! Not until the Boulder City Council actually permits some transportation improvements in and out of the city. They were actively against widening roads and/or improving transit in and out of town for years, and the city’s paying the price for that stupidity these days. Transit IN town got way better, but if there’s no way in and out, it kinda doesn’t really matter.

        • I suspect the reason that Boulder is so happy is that they only polled residents, and as we know the city’s growth restrictions have driven property values so sky-high that only rich people can afford to live there. And since rich people are happy people.

          Besides, transit into town is fine so long as you avoid rush hours…..

        • Exactly – so long as you don’t, you know, actually have to commute in and out of town. I could commute at off-peak hours – if I didn’t have kids in school that I actually enjoy spending time with.

          My employer was seriously considering abandoning Boulder a few years ago and taking their many jobs with them. I think taht scared the city a bit, given the taxes they get from my employer.

          At lesat I actually can take a bus from close to home to work, and in a few years I should be able to take commuter rail too. Now THAT will be nice. But until then? I dread every September – there’s a noticeable increase in traffic every September once schools are back in session.

  3. Whythawk – Nope, you’re not misreading that. TABOR requires that, when a recession happens, the budget shrinks, but is not allowed to increase back to the original funding level without voter approval.

    TABOR was my first introduction to Colorado’s rock stupid process of amending the state constitution by a simple majority vote, although not the last (unfortunately). In this state, it’s theoretically possible that 5% of the state population could change the state constitution for the other 95% (it takes 5% of the state population to sign a petition to get start a citizen’s initiative to change the constitution). There’s so many things wrong with this it’s hard to know where to start.

    I don’t expect the recently filed lawsuit against TABOR in federal court to actually overturn TABOR, but if it at least serves as an educational vessel, that would be good. Civics – yet another victim of the NCLB war on public education.

  4. Hey, look at the upside of termination of community services. It will bring the community together when they come out in force to police themselves, haul away trash, and keep up the parks. Did I say “when”? I mean “if.”

  5. Well, since legislation hardly ever gets repealed, how about simply clarifying the absolute costs and letting tax policy ensure that these costs are met? I can see the difficulty. If people’s incomes have halved, then you would theoretically need to double taxes to maintain the total tax revenue.

    Clearly this isn’t going to go down well and will actively harm people. Of course tax expenditure must shrink with hardened times, but just as true is that there is a base requirement for services and taxes must rise to cover them.

    I don’t think it will ever be possible to specify what the base tax-rates or revenues must be, but perhaps a priority list of state expenditure must be created.

    Those things which have the lowest priority are cut first, gradually all the way back to things that are critical, with taxes rising and falling to address these things as the economy rises and falls.

    Any idea how much average income in Colorado Springs has fallen over the last 12 months?

  6. I wonder if there will be a huge liberal swing in the Springs in a few years. There is no better way to appreciate what taxes and public services do for you until you take them all away.

  7. So with the socialism of the AFA being in town (the state does own those means of production and the people’s taxes keep the place up along with paying the salaries of everyone who works there)…and isn’t there an army base too?…they still can’t make it work?

    I do love Russ’s idea though. They did the same thing in the USSR, called them “subbotniks” (IIRC) and they were “voluntary”.

  8. And there’s the Air Force Academy too, right? So all in all, it’s a fairly militaristic area (Colorado College notwithstanding). It will be interesting to see how it plays out. And it is too bad–it’s a pretty city.

  9. Good article. I think there is a mistake in the line “…I can’t help thinking that this is the kind of thing that happens when a culture goes with education for too long.”

    It should read: “…without education for too long.” It fits given what happened in CS.

  10. There is an unfortunate move, not by the majority (Note: Obama won), but by a loud group who see themselves in the roll of Thomas Jefferson (not). He would be ashamed. And who believe in the constitution and public discourse (not) (see town hall meetings videos). And who vote for Sarah Palin (Thomas Jefferson, not). It’s okay to be a Palin fan, but don’t tell me you have good judgement and then vote for Sarah Palin. Did anyone notice that NEWSMAX is buying and selling her book? Then giving it for free just to get rid of it? Where in our business world was it told that to be a successful business professional the thing to do is to blame everyone else for your problems (see:Palin). And where in the world are the instructions that say businesses should run the government? Are advertisers paying millions to be seen on a network that gives “news” without proper study, thought, or truth; ie. Does Climate Change change when there are a couple of blizzards? Is the defenition of climate change readily availaible to those who can read? You can rant and rave, but these are simple questions and simple truths. You don’t even have to go to college to understand them. How many thousands of dollars would you pay per quarter to send your child to a university that hires Sarah Palin as the prisident? If they told your child that Climate Change is gone because it snowed, would you continue to pay the tuition even though your child would then flunk the final exam? Let’s have differences of opinion. Let’s speak them and let’s listen. Thank you for teaching me that the purpose of teleprompters are as bullet shields and the purpose of palms is for making notes so you don’t have to use a teleprompter. This is huge! Really! Remember that folk song, “Where have all the brain cells gone?”

  11. I happen to live in Colorado Springs and was unlucky enough to happen upon your site. While you are welcome to bash our citizenry for demanding an accountable city government, I would think you would be willing to listen to the perspective of one of the blood-thirsty warmongering militaristic conservatives who voted against tripling our property taxes to give the city council more money. After all, as good little liberals aren’t you open minded and pride yourselves on reason?

    Here is the reason for a local government’s existence: to ensure the population is safe, secure and to get out of the way of the people as they make life worth living. Colorado Springs City Government does that, or has done that, very well for years. Our beautiful city is 7.7% below the cost of living of the average in the US because we limit government to the minimum absolutely required to perform the mission I just stated. We in Colorado Springs actually believe in the Jeffersonian ideal that governments exist to secure the rights of the people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We also believe that government that governs least governs best.

    The biggest problem with the current city council majority (including our mayor) and our far overpaid city manager is that 75% of the city general funds go to pay for salaries of the 1459 city employees. They are paid very high, relative to average Springs citizens, at an average of $70000 per year for city workers vs $45000 per year for average citizens. We, the people of Colorado Springs, think our government has plenty of money but is misappropriating that money to line their own pockets. Our City Manager makes $210,000 and has an assistant that makes $164,000. There are more than 50 city employees who make over $100,000 while many people in town here are losing their jobs.

    So, the choice for local voters is this: triple property taxes (and increase our foreclosure problem in the city not mention driving businesses to close) to increase the numbers of overpaid city employees and face the same request next year when they’ve spent all of that on new “official” cars for themselves; or to show some tough love and force them to live within their means and get out of our way.

    We the people are adopting the parks and rec centers. We the people, individual citizens, will overcome and force the city government to realize they serve us, not the other way around. Government that becomes too big for its britches doesn’t deserve new ones, it deserves to go on a diet until the britches fit again. Good luck in your liberal paradise. I’d prefer to walk in Colorado Springs, where I know my government works for me.

  12. I wonder if Eric P would take on the job of city manager for, say, 30% of the existing pay. $60,000 is certainly more than I make, and the taxpayers would love his fiscal restraint in not demanding more.

    Funny thing is, too many city managers hold advanced degrees and feel that they should be compensated accordingly.

    Ah, well. Let the amateur city management games continue! At some point, professionals will once again be asked to resume responsibility.

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