Metropolitan areas the cities and the suburbs that suround them have grown by 10.8 percent over the last decade. Rural areas only grew by half as much in the same period. In addition, demographic trends show America is becoming more diverse and less racially-segregated. This trend is alongside another shift – the move away from northern central cities such as Detroit and Chicago -towards southern and western metro areas. The WSJ’s interactive map of the top 50 cities is worth exploring. New York and San Francisco have been flat over the decade. Cleveland saw a major decline in population while Colorado Springs has surged.
In November, voters in Colorado Springs voted against a measure that would triple the city’s property taxes, and as a result, local government has begun to issue many painful cuts in services. The city was the birthplace of the nation’s most restrictive Tax and Expenditure Limit, so it is no surprise that residents were not in favor of the steep increase.
Colorado’s Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) prevents the state and municipalities from raising taxes without voter consent. The issue of whether state-level TELs should limit home rule by constraining local spending is controversial, but as the law stands it undeniably gives voters control of budgeting.
The official reaction to this vote has been ugly. Budget officials seem to be punishing their constituents for their fiscal preferences by shooting the cocker spaniel, as their Boston counterparts threatened. The expression refers to politicians who generally threaten to take away valued services, but in this case they are following through. Colorado Springs politicians are choosing to make the necessary budget cuts by turning off street lights, cutting park budgets, and even removing city trash cans, in what seems to be an effort to anger residents rather than make the most efficient cuts possible.
Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal interviews a resident on the issue:
“They’re going for the things that are easy to cut rather than the things that are hard to cut. And the things that are hard to cut deal with human beings and personnel.”
Fowler says the city needs to look much harder at pay-cuts and lay-offs. But city officials have decided that its employees shouldn’t take pay cuts just because residents want to keep taxes low. So instead, Parks and Recreation took a big hit. That department’s budget was recently slashed by 75 percent.
Perhaps these extreme, if inefficient, measures in Colorado Springs will lead voters to pass a tax increase in the next election. Or these budget-cutting tactics could end the careers of incumbent politicians.
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