Willie Morris, Mississippi's celebrated writer/ editor/raconteur, once remarked, "I have no use for anyone who doesn't like dogs and cemeteries." I thought of Willie, while following the frantic efforts of our elected officials, as they search for ways to make the recalcitrant taxpayers support our sprawlopolis.
Let's see. We need to come up with $150 million or so for a high-speed road to the airport, so the airport can get bigger, so more companies will come here and bring more employees, and more cars, and more congestion, and more sprawl, so the roads will be even more choked, so future sets of elected officials can figure out even more creative ways of pulling a few bucks out of our pockets, so we can make the city grow even more ...
Absent from the debate is any sense of the past, or any concern for the future. It's all about us, right now, right here -- our jobs, our investments, our commute, our paychecks.
Our elected officials may listen to a perfunctory prayer or two before getting down to business, but they all worship the same God: Economic Growth. Yea, verily, they have seen the Light -- hath not Rocky Scott led them to the highest summit in the land, and hath he not shown them a vision most profound: the sprawling shimmer of orange streetlights from the banks of the Monument even unto the Kansas line?
Maybe we should ask our leaders a simple question: Is there any limit to growth in El Paso County? Being good Republicans all, you know what they'll say. "We neither oppose nor support growth per se. We simply implement policies that will effectively deal with the problems posed by growth, should it occur. We have no interest in imposing any kind of artificial cap on growth or population; let the market make that decision."
In fact, the supposedly market-neutral policies that are espoused by Colorado governments at virtually every level are deliberately designed to nurture, support and accelerate economic growth. Just to name a few ...
Public/private partnerships (like our own Economic Development Corporation), whose only goal is to lure new businesses to Colorado and/or Colorado Springs.
Fierce and concerted opposition by state and local business interests to legislation (liability, minimum wage, workman's comp, retirement/healthcare funding) that might make Colorado less attractive to relocating/expanding businesses
Support for advanced vocational training as a key component of publicly financed higher education (gotta have a well-trained workforce for the Intels of the world)
And, most importantly, a settled policy by local government to socialize the costs of growth, while privatizing its benefits.
In other words, the community as a whole shoulders the costs (higher taxes, higher utility rates) and the inconveniences (longer commutes, more crowding, more pollution, a frenetic lifestyle) of growth. The beneficiaries of growth -- new residents, relocating businesses, and the individuals or businesses who serve their needs -- get a free ride.
As in most things, we're pretty schizophrenic about growth. As voters, we elect folks who, whether they call themselves moderate or conservative, are all for growth and all for the new taxes that growth seems to demand.
As taxpayers, we usually turn down tax increases, except those (like TOPS) that are designed to mitigate growth, rather than support it.
Dogs and cemeteries. To cherish both suggests a love of community, and a settled commitment to that community. I suspect that a substantial portion of the anti-tax vote comes from people who are deeply rooted in our city and are unwilling to help finance its destruction.
So maybe the anti-tax vote is an anti-growth vote as well. Who knows? The official line, of course, is that the ever-vigilant taxpayers wouldn't fund such frivolities as the Pioneers Museum, but that they're positively slavering with joy at the prospect of paying for potholes and drainage ditches.
Maybe, but it's possible that, if our elected leaders showed us that they saw the city as more than an infinitely expandable network of roads, drainage ditches, police stations and cone zones, we might give 'em a few bucks to play with.
And finally, speaking of Mississippi, did you happen to read Sunday's Society pages in The Gazette? Did you see the pictures of the accomplished young women who will make their debuts in two different debutante balls? And did you notice that one ball will be for whites, and the other for blacks? Might it not make sense to merge the two?
As Ed Bircham might say, "Come on, America, we can do better than that!"
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