Geezers of Colorado Springs unite — save our city

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One of the most memorable political images of the past year has to be that of a man in his late 60s at one of the Tea Party rallies holding a sign which read, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

Proponents of health care reform seized upon the sentiments thereby expressed as evidence of the opposition’s pig-headed ignorance, and unthinking resistance even to change that would benefit them.

Dolt! Don’t you realize that Medicare is a government program? Ignoramus! Don’t you remember that all your favorite Republicans bitterly opposed it? Fool! Get on board with us, and help lead our country to a bright, shining, deficit-free future!

As a thankful Medicare recipient, I think I know how the anonymous sign-bearer would have responded to such suggestions.

“Look,” he might have said, “of course I know that Medicare is a government program — and I’m also smart enough to know that words like ‘reform’ and ‘efficiency’ and ‘savings’ mean cutbacks, more bureaucratic red tape, more hoops to jump through and fewer benefits.

“It works pretty well now, because it’s simple and transparent. Reach 65, become eligible, get a card, and just hope that your doctor will keep on accepting Medicare. But once it gets linked to some giant new program, who knows what’ll happen?

“You guys think that new government programs will solve everything. But I’ve been around long enough to have seen a lot of programs, to have dealt with lots of snotty government employees, and I just want ‘em to leave me alone.”

Are those selfish, greedy, anti-communitarian sentiments? Sure — and that’s the way we geezers look at things. Whatever we’ve got, we want to keep, because it’s too late to start over. You young folks (young being under 60) can go ahead and fix things, but just leave us alone. You want change? Pay for it yourselves!

And geezers are hardly the only cheap and cheerless age cohort.

“Change you can believe in.”

Sounds quaint, doesn’t it? It turns out that the only change most of us will support is change that other people will pay for.

Consider the Pikes Peak region.

El Paso County has reduced its general fund support for parks by 68 percent, from $2.6 million in previous years to $820,000 in 2010. The city of Colorado Springs reduced its general fund support for parks by 84 percent, from $19 million in 2008 to $3 million in 2010.

Such draconian cutbacks were made necessary by tens of millions in revenue shortfalls, which are likely to deepen even more next year.

And how have city residents responded to these crises?

During last November’s election, we turned down a modest increase in the city’s property tax and, adding injury to insult, approved a measure that drastically slashes future city revenues.

The “Bartolin Group,” which so far consists of two local businessmen, has gotten a lot of traction by suggesting that the city’s dilemmas are rooted in a bloated, overcompensated workforce. Meanwhile, the “Jenkins Group,” which consists of the owner and senior employees of a leading real estate development company, believes that one way to attack the city’s problems would be to change the form of government.

Interesting suggestions, but they’re not going to work. Speaking as a geezer with long experience in city government, there’s no way that you can solve current revenue shortfalls by firing more people and/or cutting benefits and/or changing the form of government. Such measures may bring some modest long-term benefits, but they won’t help us now.

Ask the self-appointed deficit-busters a simple question: who you gonna fire? I know, I know. Get rid of all those useless bureaucrats! Don’t touch public safety! But it’s not so simple, and it turns out we’ve already fired all of the useless ones, as well many of the useful ones.

Ok, then let’s slash salaries by 10, 15, even 20 percent. Are you going to include cops and firefighters? No? Then, since public safety is more than 50 percent of the city budget, you’ll have to double your proposed salary benefit cuts. And then the best employees will leave, and for the rest it’ll be like the former Soviet Union, of which it was said, “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.”

So what will happen to our antic little burg? Can’t we just get rid of the cops?

Lenin thought so.

Perhaps envisioning the Colorado Springs of 2010, the cunning old Bolshevik described the “withering away” of the state in a 1917 essay, “The State and Revolution.”

“No special apparatus of (public safety), is needed: this will be done by the armed people themselves … as any crowd of civilized people interferes to put a stop to a scuffle or to prevent a woman from being assaulted.”

Geezers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your taxes!

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