Not the time to stand on principle, and crash and burn

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Say you’re a pilot. You’re not flying the plane — you’re sitting in the back of the bus, row 27, seat E, squeezed between oversized fliers.

You’re mad at the airline, at the airline industry and at the overpaid incompetents who have run the company into the ground. You’re mad that your once amply funded pension is now almost worthless. You’re mad that you can’t retire. You’re mad that you’re stuck on the redeye to Newark, and you wish that the oversized passengers would lose some weight — right now!

Suddenly there’s an emergency. Against all odds, both the pilot and the co-pilot have become disabled. One has passed out because of stress and lack of sleep, while the other is seriously ill.

Is there a pilot aboard?

What do you do? You do what Sully would do.

You squeeze past the oversized passengers, take the controls, land the plane and save everybody aboard. It never occurs to you to do otherwise, despite your well-founded belief that this emergency is just another demonstration of the company’s incompetence.

You do your duty, and save yourself.

That’s the choice that will confront Colorado Springs voters during the next two weeks as they fill in their mail-in ballots and decide the fate of Issue 2C.

It’s easy to vote no. It’s tempting to see this as an opportunity to give City Council a big fat raspberry, and show them what you think of ’em.

Look at their record, you might say. Rather than make the hard, unpopular choices that their counterparts on the Board of County Commissioners have made, they’ve ducked and dithered, refused to face unpleasant realities and now expect the voters to bail them out by approving a tax increase.

And let’s not forget council’s unilateral imposition of the storm water “fee,” and its willingness to fund the U.S. Olympic Committee deal by borrowing more than $30 million without voter approval.

Such actions might have been legal, but that doesn’t make them right. Clearly, council should have submitted both proposals to the voters, and lived with the consequences.

Wouldn’t a “yes” vote just enable them, and allow them to continue their apparently profligate ways? Shouldn’t we say no, and force them to restructure city government, reduce a bloated work force and trim the city’s sprawling enterprise system?

That’s the kind of “tough love” prescribed by 2C’s opponents.

It sounds good, but it’s not based upon fact. It’s based upon distorted factoids peddled by anti-government ideologues. These folks are playing upon our community’s instinctive dislike of taxes, which has been reinforced by the visible arrogance and/or incompetence of many city leaders.

Read the city budget. Do you understand it?

If the acronyms GASB, FASB and GAAP draw a blank, you’ll need to do some studying. Start reading, and read the budgets from the last 10 years while you’re at it.

But, as John Madden used to say, wait a minute!! You need to look at Memorial Health System’s budget, at Colorado Springs Utilities’ budget and at the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority’s budget.

And you can’t come to any conclusions about our city without looking at the budgets of comparable municipalities in Colorado, and throughout the country.

Do so, and you’ll discover that by almost any metric, Colorado Springs delivers services cheaply and efficiently. You’ll find that our total tax burden is low by national standards, and that residential property taxes are a fraction of those imposed in most states.

You’ll find that our municipally owned utility provides us with some of the lowest rates in the nation.

You’ll find, in short, that our city has been well and wisely governed for most of its history. The missteps, stupidity and confusion of the last few years are anomalies, not the culminating events of decades of failure.

The city has released a preliminary budget document. If implemented as written, its consequences would be disastrous.

Consider, for example, the proposed closure of the Pioneers Museum. The museum’s collections have never been formally appraised, but they’re extraordinarily valuable. It seems to me that donors to the museum (including me) would, in the event of closure, have every right to demand that the city return donated items.

The budget also calls for putting most of the park system on “life support.” Translated, that means letting grass, trees and shrubs die for lack of water.

Ladies and gentlemen, the plane is losing altitude. We need to grab the controls, take the aircraft off autopilot and bring her down safely. Once we’re on the ground, we can figure out how we got in this mess and how to prevent such crises in the future.

The alternative? A long goodbye, as Colorado Springs is deconstructed.

“When yellow leaves, or few, or none do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang …”

John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.

One Response to Not the time to stand on principle, and crash and burn

  1. If you want to blame Council and call us stupid and confused, fine. Get it out of your system if it makes you feel better. But the problems have been building for years and no one Council (to include the one that Mr. Hazlehurst sat on) is to blame and yet we all are to blame.

    The Capital improvement 1/2 cent sales tax was done away with in the 1990′s which led us with depleted revenues to address new police and fire stations, road improvements, and stormwater infrastructure. And like many cost reduction moves, the damage and repercussions are only evident when looking back over several years of perspective.

    My predecessors, in 2002, saw this coming and proposed some tax changes but only the Public Safety Sales Tax passed. And yes we also have TOPS and the RTA, but those stovepipe revenues don’t give us a lot of flexibility in dealing with the broader City issues. And it also confuses many of our citizens. I can’t tell you how many people have questioned me why we bought Corral Bluffs open space for a million bucks when we have more pressing needs in the City. When I try to explain that we are spending TOPS money on what the voters told us to spend it on, we get told (and I quote) “If you guys had any brains, you’d figure out how to spend that TOPS money on Police and Fire”. So much for following the voters wishes.

    All that being said, Mr. Hazlehurst is correct in his assessment of our ability to provide services cheaply and effectively. But our ability to continue to do “more with less” has probably run its course.

    Scott Hente
    City Councilmember

    Scott Hente
    October 20, 2009 at 4:57 pm