Just seven months ago, municipal officials laid out details of a desperate financial situation. Revenues were down about $16 million. That amount, and enough to cover $8 million more in rising pension and health care costs, had to be whacked from the 2010 budget. It was the second year in a row of major shortfalls.
Nothing unusual. Virtually all cities and states have been experiencing these revenue shortfalls over the last 2 years.
There was a solution, though: The city asked voters to approve a tax that would pay for routine services.
But voters said no.
They said no to an increase of 1 percent on the sales tax.
In addition, residents of Colorado Springs....
....stopped buying things, and revenues from sales taxes, which constitute half of the city budget, declined dramatically between 2007 and 2009.
Note: Imagine today's recession with a national "Fair" Sales Tax as a replacement for the income tax.
There are some exceptions....but essentially....failure to approve any new taxes to deal with the downturn and consumers cutting back on spending during a recession are not unusual.
It is, however, important to note that the sales tax rate in Colorado Springs is 3.5%.
Property tax rates in Colorado Springs are 4.279 mills. In comparison, Denver's property tax rate is 26.535 mills, 6 times higher.
How's that low-and-no-increased-taxation working out for Colorado Springers?
8800 streetlights were deactivated in March.
3 city pools have been closed, and at the still-open Village Green Park there's a sign on the bathroom door..."Restrooms Closed Due to Budget Restrictions."
Evening and weekend bus service has ended. Citizens have had to quit their jobs because they can't get to them.
42 fewer cops and 20 fewer firefighters in a city of 400,000.
"There is a lot of frustration within the department. There is a whole slew of calls we don't respond to that a year and a half ago we did."
If thieves break into a car or home and steal stuff — a felony — the report is usually taken over the phone now.
"Our property-crime detectives have been cut by over half," he said. "When people call the police, they want somebody to show up on their doorstep, and we can't do that."
What is unusual about Colorado Springs is this....
Colorado Springs, too, was the birthplace of the TABOR amendment, or the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. In 1991, the year Colorado voters passed TABOR — a provision that restricts government's ability to tax and spend — Colorado Springs passed its own, citywide TABOR. It is the only municipality in the state that is "double-TABORed."
This is doubly pertinent because of the many state initiatives being proposed by conservative extremists in other states and cities hellbent on replicating Colorado Springs situation. One example of this madness is the Republican Party's insistence that all party candidates sign a "no tax pledge." John Kasich, GOP candidate for Ohio's governor job has signed a pledge "to oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes."
Colorado Springers are responding to this dire situation with volunteers. Charity is often set forward by conservative extremists as the solution to the shortfalls left by keeping those taxes low.
For example, during the health care discussions, Eric Cantor (R-VA) famously said to a fellow Virginian in desperate need of health coverage to look to "charitable organizations."
Obviously, to me, Colorado Springs needs to raise taxes.....but also obvious is that this is Colorado Springs' problem to deal with as they see fit. If they don't raise their already-low taxes to pay for public services....the whole idea of the "collective"....the concept of we're all in it together..... will eventually breakdown.
Until Colorado Springs looks like Afghanistan....where extremists also refuse to impose any taxes.....
Rachel Maddow will win a journalism award for her reporting from Afghanistan this week.
"open sewers, unpaved streets"
"The reason these streets are still not paved is because government officials refuse to pay any taxes to the government."
In other words.....Colorado Springs writ large.
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