It would be nice if our city’s quarrelsome elected leaders could agree on the most important issues facing Colorado Springs, wouldn’t it?
Imagine if Mayor Steve Bach agreed to support a regional stormwater enterprise, and Council got behind the City for Champions projects — wouldn’t that be great? And what’s the matter with them, anyway? Can’t they just all get along?
Mayor Steve is in a hurry. Elected by an overwhelming 57-43 majority in 2011, he can reasonably be said to have a mandate. But does he still today? And if so, what is it?
Bach’s majority mirrors U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s margin in his four congressional races. It’s reasonable to assume that Democrats and some Independents voted for Richard Skorman, while Republicans and other unaffiliated voters supported Bach.
If Lamborn has an agenda, it’s one of opposition to government programs that don’t employ armed folks in uniform. He surmises, probably correctly, that his voters don’t much care for President Barack Obama (whom he once likened to a “tar baby,” implying that the president’s policies were so toxic that any Republican who got too close to Obama could never shake the fatal stain), so he takes care not to be outflanked on the right.
Bach, by contrast, is genuinely nonpartisan. He’s won plaudits from the right for downsizing city government while restoring and strengthening vital city services. He also has pleasantly surprised Skorman voters by his passionate advocacy for downtown revitalization.
Think of Mayor Bach as the city’s personal trainer, doctor and therapist, there to strengthen the core, fix what’s broken and encourage rational behavior.
Seen in that light, his policy prescriptions are coherent and reasonable.
Your therapist knows that you ought to begin an exercise program, stop smoking, cut down on the booze and take your job seriously. But she’ll guide you slowly — suggest that you take a brisk walk every day, maybe get a dog and join an affinity group that doesn’t meet in a bar.
In a perfect world, Springs residents would agree to reform the city tax structure, borrow money to catch up with the city’s capital improvements backlog and vote for a comprehensive regional stormwater program.
But this is Colorado Springs, where voters don’t much like existing taxes, let alone new ones. After 30 years selling commercial real estate, Mayor Bach is firmly grounded in the reality-based community.
Bach knows that he wasn’t elected to raise taxes, or even do much of anything except find efficiencies in government. But he now believes that absent radical change, the city’s long decline will accelerate. The patient is in crisis.
After 30 years selling commercial real estate, Mayor Bach is firmly grounded in the reality-based community
So what can he do? Assuming the state Economic Development Commission approves tax increment financing for the RTA projects, he can probably get them funded without voter-approved financing.
That leaves stormwater and capital improvements, so why not fund both by issuing $190 million in general obligation bonds? The city can comfortably service the debt without new taxes. It may not be an ideal or complete solution to either problem, but it’s doable.
Bach must wonder why City Council wants a regional stormwater enterprise. Don’t they understand that city voters will be subsidizing county residents just as they’re subsidizing the sheriff, thanks to Terry Maketa’s clever 2012 tax increase? The new enterprise will be another Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, diverting city tax revenues away from critical city needs.
It’s as if the patient decided to give up beer, only to drink martinis instead.
But Council sees things differently. Those who represent suburban districts may not believe that the city core needs to be strengthened, or that the stagnant economy needs a good jolt of government spending. And since the six district representatives just began their four-year terms, they’re in no hurry. Let Bach fume and fuss, since he may be gone in 20 months.
Which side will prevail? The next few weeks will be interesting.
Bach and Council will lock horns over the budget at the Nov. 5 “markup” session, and we’ll know which, if any, of the RTA projects will survive state scrutiny by early December. We’ll see whether Council and Bach have a “Come to Jesus” reconciliation, or keep fighting.
Most interestingly, we’ll see what treatment the mayor will prescribe for his ailing city.
Will he gently suggest that we stay away from our disreputable friends on City Council?
Might he point out that they just want to take our money, spend it on out-of-town buddies and leave us broke, jobless, friendless and abandoned?
Trust me, Dr. Steve wants to help!
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