Put out a bucket and the rain stopped, all went back to normal. But as the rain slackened, I thought of the perfect storm gathering over Colorado Springs, a manmade storm, largely created by Douglas Bruce and his taxophobic allies.
Let's consider the consequences, particularly in this city, if the following two events take place:
No. 1: Referenda C and D don't pass. C would allow the state to remove the so-called "ratchet effect" from TABOR and permit the state budget to reach pre-recession levels. D would permit the state to borrow $1.8 billion to fund transportation projects, including nearly $100 million in El Paso County.
No. 2: The Bruce-authored ordinances that reduce city taxes and restrict city borrowing get on the November ballot and pass. These ordinances would, among other things, cut the city's general sales tax by 12.5 percent, kill its property tax and forbid the city to borrow for terms longer than 10 years. Even further, many current long-term debt obligations would have to be paid within five years.
What could all this mean for Colorado Springs residents? If C goes down, we'll see more drastic cuts in transportation, higher education and non-mandated programs; if D goes down, I-25 will remain four lanes from here to the Denver suburbs until, well, most of us baby boomers are dead.
And -- how's this for bitter irony? -- Colorado won't have access to the hundreds of millions in additional highway funding that Sen. Wayne Allard procured for us when he persuaded his colleagues to back a change in the formula that allocates federal dollars to the states. Under the new formula, we have to match the federal funds, dollar for dollar; we simply won't have the money without C and D.
As for Bruce's measures, he touts them as modest changes that hardly would impact a "bloated" city budget. The reverse is true. They're drastic changes that would make the city ungovernable, at least as we know it. Cutting revenue, mandating immediate debt repayment and putting up impossible barriers to creating any additional debt, the ordinances would force extraordinary changes.
Imagine what would happen if your boss announced he was cutting your salary and increasing your workload. And, at the same time, you found out your mortgage had to be paid off in five years.
Police and fire receive major support from the general fund. Those expenses are untouchable -- so to maintain basic services, the city might, for example, sell the City Aud, de-fund the Pioneers Museum, stop developing new parks, dramatically raise recreation fees, cut planning and zoning personnel (letting rogue developers have their way), and convert anything and everything to cash.
Most of us would find this utterly disastrous, but Bruce and his hardcore anti-tax allies think it sounds just fine. They're trying to make Colorado Springs a laboratory for predatory capitalism, an unregulated utopia with no public sector.
It'll be interesting to see whether the people of Colorado Springs are inattentive, prejudiced or gullible enough to participate in their own destruction. Bruce's measures, cleverly framed as responsible efforts to limit government, are subtle, but vicious and delusional. And they will be almost impossible to alter in any way; any change, however slight, could appear on the ballot only via a citizen-initiated petition.
It's no exaggeration, unfortunately, to say that the future of Colorado Springs, and the state of Colorado, is in the hands of El Paso County voters. If C and D pass here, they'll pass statewide -- and if they don't pass here, they'll probably die. Successful progressive initiatives, such as Amendment 23, have at least come close to carrying Colorado Springs. If C and D are defeated and Bruce's initiatives pass, we're in big trouble.
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