Apart from cutting ribbons, signing resolutions, making speeches, and deciding whether your next-door neighbor can build a new deck 7 feet from your property line, our intrepid City Council has no function other than approving the yearly city budget.
The budget is supposed to be shaped by Council's explicit policy directives and, we might reasonably assume, reflects the informed consensus of our elected officials.
I hope not. Because if that's the case, our representatives are sly, disingenuous, manipulative, mendacious and a little bit sleazy. This year's budget, which features a "financial blueprint" of new taxes, fees, "loan repayments" and "payments in lieu of taxes" is all of the above, and then some.
When the voters chose in 1991 to reduce the city sales tax from 2.5 percent to 2.0 percent and to impose revenue caps which force the city to rebate tax revenues above an arbitrary year-to-year growth rate, they basically destroyed the city's ability to deal with growth.
Didn't matter at the time; the city was shrinking, not growing. Of course, once we couldn't deal with growth, along came the city's biggest boom since the discovery of gold at Cripple Creek. And so, here we are, with a crumbling infrastructure, an undermanned police force and an underequipped fire department. Our city is literally starving in the midst of plenty.
So what should we do? The answer is simple and straightforward: Ask the voters to reinstate the half-cent sales tax that they jettisoned a decade ago. Why? Because the sales tax is the fairest, most equitable and least regressive of all the taxes that the city is capable of levying. Food and medicine are exempt from sales tax, which lessens its impact on the poor; moreover, around 25 percent of all sales taxes are paid by non-residents, which lessens the impact on the rest of us. The case for a reinstated half-cent sales tax is a good one; it's certainly more compelling than the case for the SCIP bond issue, which, nevertheless, passed last April.
So what does the city propose to do? Instead of attacking the problem directly and honestly, they've come up with a witch's brew of revenue enhancements, imposing taxes and fees that have no basis in policy.
Why target hospital patients, cable TV subscribers, automobile buyers, golfers and people who have to obtain city permits and licenses? Why try to spin off the bus system to county taxpayers by creating a new Transit Authority? (That one's simple: so the city can pocket the 5 million bucks it now spends on transit!)
It's the Willie Sutton theory of government; asked why he robbed banks, Willie replied, "Because that's where the money's at."
It comes down to a certain contempt for the citizenry. Council and the administration realize that a reinstated half-cent tax, along with tossing out the revenue caps, would put Colorado Springs on a sound fiscal basis for a generation. They just don't think that the voters would go for it.
They think that they know better than the benighted rubes who put 'em in office; hence, they're trying to scam off a few bucks any way that they can.
Come on, guys, let's be straight with each other. Ask us, and maybe you'll receive. And if you don't, that's life in a democracy. Everyone gets one vote; and Council, you've got nine.
Sounds like a good start to me.
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