One question we hear at times from readers goes something like this: You’re a business paper. Why do you pay so much attention to local politics?
That’s a fair reaction. Our answer is to make two points.
First, between senior reporter/columnist John Hazlehurst and executive editor Ralph Routon, we believe our historical perspective from decades of following and analyzing the city, county and state governments stands unmatched among media outlets in Colorado.
Second, and even more important in our view, is the fact that in our many ongoing relationships, the most common frustration we encounter is the feeling our elected officials haven’t been open, cooperative or communicative enough with business leaders.
That’s why we’re convinced a big part of our role is to make sure the most compelling local business-related political issues stay in the forefront and aren’t forgotten.
So it should come as no surprise now, as we look ahead to Mayor Steve Bach’s fourth and perhaps final State of the City address next Thursday, that we think it’s pertinent to weigh in ahead of time. (For the record, this really is Bach’s fourth State of the City; he gave the first shortly after taking office in June 2011.)
First, a business view. In his first State of the City, Bach said this: “We need to improve the business climate, and what that means is streamlining city processes, being more responsive on requests for permits and approvals, shortening up that time frame. … There’s sentiment in the community that our regulations are unreasonable.”
He campaigned on a theme of making Colorado Springs the most business-friendly city in America. But in a recent CSBJ poll with more than 300 respondents grading the city on that very point, more than 65 percent answered with C, D or F. So, three years later, that task remains unfinished.
The mayor could talk about many other topics, but a handful stand out:
• Jobs. Not just in the service industry, but the kind of jobs that improve a local economy. Bach can talk about more people working today than in 2012, when he set a “stretch” goal of 6,000 new jobs a year, but as for attracting more businesses and plant operations, that hasn’t happened. Companies continue to be skittish about moving here. What should be the strategy, for the short and long term?
• City for Champions. It’s pretty much the elephant in the room. After tax-increment funding help from the state, C4C has proven to be more polarizing than energizing. There’s still time, but City Council hasn’t been supportive. Obviously Bach and other supporters refuse to pull the plug, so what’s the best way forward?
• Stormwater. We know that Bach disagrees with a task force wanting a countywide ballot issue, preferring to push for a city-only solution and also address other infrastructure needs. This is his best chance to make that argument — or come around to the regional idea, which City Council and the Board of County Commissioners support.
• Second term. Will he run again in 2015 or not? It’s probably too early to become a lame duck, but if he’s planning to seek re-election, this would be a good time to say so.
• Need for unity. It’s the common thread through all of this. Unless we can all work together toward common goals, our city’s sluggish malaise will continue. But only by compromising can we create consensus, which may be Mayor Bach’s biggest challenge.