Bach puts needs ahead of jobs

Filed under: Employment,Government,Print |

Our preview to Mayor Steve Bach’s fourth State of the City speech identified jobs as one of the primary subjects he would likely address in his comments, and that turned out to be true — to absolutely nobody’s surprise.

But in Bach’s 30-minute presentation, notably more realistic and less boastful than his previous such speeches, the reference to jobs took on a different look as the mayor portrayed the local economy in a much more guarded, restrained view.

First, he openly admitted that despite the fact Colorado Springs might have 7,000 more people employed than in 2000, “we’ve traded down a lot of jobs” from manufacturing to lower-paying positions, many in the service industry, “and at the same time our population has gone up 130,000.” Obviously much of that growth has been in the form of retirees, but as Bach properly described, “they don’t spend as much money, which means they don’t pay as much sales tax.”

Then came his message line: “Jobs must be Job One for all of us, 24/7.” And nobody could disagree with that.

But there was not a single reference, or even a hint, to Bach’s boldly stated goal from two years ago, aiming to have 6,000 more local residents working each year through 2015, or until the area’s unemployment rate would sink to an acceptable level.

That’s fine. The goal, while laudable, really wasn’t realistic. And the most recent data from Summit Economics in its monthly reports showed a job growth in the Colorado Springs market of 3,300 jobs from April 2013 to April 2014.  Summit also has removed from its website a page that gave details of how its staff arrived at the “6,000 jobs a year” standard for the city.

So the statistics have moved to the background. Meanwhile, Bach insists that the City for Champions projects, improved airline service and other factors could make a positive difference in years to come.

Bach left the impression that the city might have a new No. 1 priority – infrastructure.

But he didn’t put specific numbers on his expectations, with or without all four portions of City for Champions. He simply reaffirmed that the Regional Business Alliance would continue to be “in the lead” on efforts to recruit companies with primary jobs. And the mayor again warned, as he has in the past, that the city remains destined for a negative cash flow and potential insolvency by 2019, unless something changes.

Bach left the impression that no matter what he or anyone says, the city might have a new No. 1 priority — infrastructure. And he did supply specific numbers there, pegging the backlog for needed community improvements at $1.3 billion, including $326 million for streets and transit, $161 million for stormwater, $70.9 million for parks, $40 million for public safety and $30 million for information technology.

“But our recovery isn’t going fast enough,” Bach acknowledged, to tackle all that without some new revenue injection. Many thought he would speak more positively about an effort among community leaders to produce a ballot issue for November, perhaps combining the stormwater task force’s input with the city’s other needs.

“There’s no time to waste,” the mayor said.

Trouble is, much time already has been wasted. At this point, though, the takeaway theme isn’t just talking about jobs. It’s deciding how much to request from voters, and how soon.

From this vantage point, that’s a good step. nCSBJ