Taxophobia got us here, we know where it will take us

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Attending a family wedding in Albuquerque over Labor Day weekend, I was again struck by the transformation of that once-grim city into an economic and cultural powerhouse, dominating northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Santa Fe gets the ink, the tourists, the international reputation, and a few B-level movie stars. Albuquerque gets the diversified business base, a distinctly local arts community, an authentic old town, and a river that runs through it (called the Rio Grande). It’s what our city might have been, had we been less taxophobic, more ready to embrace the larger world, and more open to the notion that government is not the root of all evil.

Sixty years ago, you could have boarded a passenger train at the D&RGW depot a few steps from the Antlers and gotten off at Denver’s Union Station 70 minutes later. Those days are gone, probably forever.

Yesterday, you could have boarded the New Mexico Railrunner in Albuquerque and arrived at the Santa Fe station 80 minutes later. Eight daily trains ply the intercity run, and almost 30,000 riders used the service during the holiday weekend in 2009.

It was said of Mussolini that he made the trains run on time. It will be said of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that he made the trains.

Richardson put together and pushed through the funding package that created the railroad, just as he put together a dozen other partially or wholly government funded projects to build, stimulate and enhance New Mexico’s economy.

You can argue all day that the train is overpriced, inappropriate and foolishly conceived. You can argue that it will never be self-supporting. You can call it frivolous, wasteful spending, typical of foolish Democrats.

Get over it. Albuquerque and Santa Fe have passenger rail, and we don’t.

As Devon Swezey noted in Forbes a few days ago, “The United States Mountain West has long been a hotbed of experimentation and innovation, due in no small part to a decades-long partnership between government, universities and private enterprise. Throughout the 20th century, the federal government invested in dams, transportation infrastructure and military installations that facilitated economic expansion and the emergence of new private industries.”

New Mexico, Colorado, Albuquerque, and Colorado Springs have all benefited from these partnerships.

Today, new such partnerships are being created in alternative energy, in transportation, and in economic development.

Yet as Albuquerque and New Mexico have eagerly sought to partner with the feds, Colorado Springs has withdrawn from the greater world, content to be part of Fortress America.

We think of ourselves as proud conservatives, spurning those infernal guv’mint programs in favor of healthy self-reliance. As we like to say: “Government doesn’t create jobs! Only the private sector can create jobs!”

Hogwash. We’re a company town, relying up government paychecks to keep our city afloat.

Nearly 40 years ago, local business leaders worked to wean the city from its overwhelming dependence upon the military. They succeeded for a while. Yet when the first high-tech boom waned more than a decade ago, a growing military-industrial presence took up the slack.

We were fortunate, particularly since delusional anti-government, anti-investment policies came to dominate our political culture. These policies, most recently given form in three November ballot measures (Amendments 60 and 61, Proposition 101), are embodied in the so-called taxpayers’ bill of rights and in the willingness of local voters to starve the vital functions of government.

We can get away with it because rivers of federal cash flow into the city, supporting the military installations whose payrolls, construction spending and expansion have in turn propped up our city for two generations.

Two years ago, my house was burglarized. Last week, my neighbor across the street suffered the same fate. The police investigated neither break-in, because no officers are assigned to residential burglary.

This summer, the city couldn’t afford to keep the pool in Monument Valley Park open. Sixty years ago, I swam in that pool and rode the Rock Island Rocket to Denver, where I tagged along with my mother as she shopped at Daniels & Fisher.

So what happens when the party ends, the military contractors leave, and the soldiers go home? It will end, you know. We just don’t know when.

When that day comes, we’ll be left with little to show for the military years. We’ll have a hole in Cheyenne Mountain, a few deserted barracks baking in the summer sun, and see-through buildings that once housed military contractors. We’ll be powerless to act — prisoners of our own device, checked in forever at the Hotel Colorado Springs.

Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 719-227-5861. Watch him at 7:20 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday on Channel 3, Fox Morning News.

5 Responses to Taxophobia got us here, we know where it will take us

  1. Right on John H…

    Being an East Coast transplant circa 1985 Colorado Springs has had every opportunity to be a leader not a whiner. Yet opportunities for national leadership have gone lacking because of leadership and complacency of purpose and vision the city and region have suffered and are well behind the curve.

    Knowledge base economy balanced with our military opportunities gives us every reason to hope. Operation 6035 is working hard to bring leadership and vision together to serve our county and city.

    We should have light rail connection to the Lincoln Ave station. We should boast our airport carriers so that one can fly direct to west coast Chicago and Dallas every hour of the day.

    We need to be able to provide adequate services of protection of our homes and neighborhoods because those who take know no one is going to hold them accountable.

    We need to ensure that the city and county provides for the single mom and those who are homeless. It is everyone’s job to create an environment of well being and security with a robust economical foundation.

    Easy heck no, impossible not at all. It is a matter of choice and vision.

    Bruce Hutcheon
    September 10, 2010 at 1:51 pm

  2. John Hazelhust is right. The \taxophobics\ are content to see our city toying with the infrastructure and maintence of a thrid world country.

    Ed Ward
    September 10, 2010 at 2:02 pm

  3. I agree! I’ve lived here for a little over four years and have never lived in a city that moves backwards so much. Like many, I struggle to stay afloat. Now I know why this town is so transient! It is a difficult city to survive in if you weren’t born with or already relocated here with wealth.

    jeff cloutier
    September 12, 2010 at 9:32 pm

  4. Hear, hear. I, too, was in Albuquerque, my hometown, over Labor Day weekend and as usual, was impressed by the way the city is thriving and totally enamored of the Railrunner. As a teenager in the early nineties in Albuquerque, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. While I’m sure that is a normal sentiment for a teen to have about the place they live, it is interesting to me that as I was experiencing the usual teen angst, Albuquerque leaders were laying the groundwork for the city it is today. Their bustling downtown didn’t happen overnight; that was a decades-long process. Their arts scene is just now coming into its own, and the businesses that now thrive there (not to mention the TV and film industry) is dependent on tax incentives that were put into place and fought for for many, many years.
    I believe this is a turning point for Colorado Springs. The changes we make now could make today’s teenagers feel proud of their hometown of Colorado Springs a they enter their thirties!

    Bettina Swigger
    September 13, 2010 at 8:39 am

  5. The Denver light rail system is in HUGE financial trouble. They are having desperate hearings about this right now. All of their cost estimates were badly low. All of their rider projections were vastly too high. It appears that the costs and benefits projections were manipulated to get the answer they wanted. From the Denver Post, just three days ago….

    RTD faces huge additional deficits in the years beyond 2011
    unless a plan for financial sustainability can be formed, agency officials say.

    Read more: RTD begins rate-hike hearings Monday – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16037369?source=rss#ixzz0zf8Ew8GE

    The train in New Mexico will fail. The train system in Europe is in HUGE trouble. The Great Brittain train/subway system has to be subsidized 3 to 1 versus their revenue. The people paying the subsidy are real mad about it. It is a political bomb about to blow sky high.

    The Colorado Springs Street Car System was a failure.

    There is not one significant train system in the world that is making money.

    Yeah. Let’s do a train. Let’s go backwards. Let’s fail. Just use your money, not mine.

    FactFinder
    September 15, 2010 at 9:51 pm