Election showed votes both cautious, prudent

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Regardless of what you might think about the results of Tuesday’s municipal elections, one thing seems clear: Colorado Springs voters thoughtfully considered the four referred issues on the ballot, and voted accordingly.

Tuesday night, supporters of issue 1A had gathered at Southside Johnny’s for what they hoped would be a victory celebration. Instead, it was a wake, as community leaders from the private and public sectors tried to make sense of a resounding defeat.

Some suggested that the continuing U.S. Olympic Committee debacle was the principal cause of the loss.

We don’t think so.

The voters approved issue 1D, which eliminated restrictions on the ability of city enterprises to accept federal grants, and also said yes (albeit by the narrowest of margins) to1B, enabling the city to retain $1.2 million in revenue which would otherwise have been refunded to taxpayers.

They also chose to leave TOPS as it is, and not permit the city to use a greater percentage of the trails, parks and open space tax for routine park maintenance.

These four decisions had common characteristics: a cautious conservatism; a refusal to succumb to hastily organized campaigns, however passionate; and a willingness to listen to reasonable arguments for and against issues.

It’s clear that the city’s economic development efforts are, compared to our competitors, woefully underfunded. It’s also clear that the city’s present revenue structure, which depends heavily upon the sales tax, is less than ideal.

We were glad to see the city, in cooperation with the business community, create a sustainable funding committee several months ago.

That group has been given the charge of reviewing the city’s existing sources of revenue, and proposing changes that might result in more fair, more stable and more equitable ways to pay for city government.

Clearly, any such proposals will be complex and controversial, and will require voter approval to implement. That approval will require an extended community conversation, and a coalition of supporters that’s both broad and deep.

So, when 1A was suddenly presented to voters, they rebelled. A two-to-one majority likely saw it as a hastily conceived attempt to benefit a single segment of the community, not a coherent piece of a larger plan.

Since 1997, carefully conceived tax increases (TOPS, the public safety sales tax) and bond issues (SCIP, the Springs Community Improvement Program) have been approved by substantial margins. Voters have been willing to increase city debt or pay higher taxes for clearly defined purposes that, they believe, are important functions of government.

We applaud the civic-minded residents and organizations which worked so hard to pass 1A. We hope that they’ll continue to work for the community’s betterment and help lead the nascent sustainable funding initiative.

We congratulate councilmember Jerry Heimlicher, as well as newly elected councilmember Bernie Herpin, for their victories in contested elections. Scott Hente and Darryl Glenn will also return for a second term, having prevailed in uncontested elections.

That’s troubling. Contested elections are the essence of democracy, and no elected official, however popular or competent, deserves a free ride.

Despite the ease and convenience of mail-in elections, turnout was just more than 35 percent. It’s disheartening to realize that, of 196,000 registered voters, only 69,000 bothered to cast a ballot.

As Benjamin Franklin emerged from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, he was asked “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it,” responded Franklin.

Sadly, it seems that a majority of Colorado Springs residents are glad to let someone else do the keeping.