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Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Rocky Scott of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. recently told the group, “Jobs are needed for the 200,000 new residents expected in El Paso County in the next 20 years.” That summarizes the plan our leaders have for this town. This, when we are so painfully reminded there isn’t much water around here. We’ll be asked to pay more dearly with each passing year for water rights from increasingly reluctant sellers. And we’ll pay to pump that water over ever-increasing distances.

Why do Rocky and his cohorts want to see this community at 140% of it’s current population? Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume greed is not part of the equation. They link growth to success. They think growth will solve today’s infrastructure deficiencies and eliminate unemployment. I suspect this motivates many citizens to quietly go along with the destruction of “God’s country.”

It’s time to start asking important questions. Will we be able to find enough water, and at what cost? Is it intelligent to expect we can subvert the natural equilibrium between jobs and job-seekers (from here and elsewhere)? Has the phenomenal growth we encouraged over the past decade solved problems or created them? Are city and county budgets in better shape because of all that “good” growth during the nineties? Will the Springs whither and die if we don’t court growth, or is our economy diverse enough and our area so attractive growth will continue regardless?

We have long subsidized growth because our defense-centric economy needed diversification. We offered tax incentives to employers and pitched in much of the infrastructure costs of new development. Mission accomplished. But our love of growth became a habit. It’s considered an entitlement by the homebuilding industry, ingrained in the culture of city and county planning departments, council chambers and county commission.

Looking to next year’s growth to solve today’s economic and infrastructure problems is like paying off today’s credit card debt by borrowing against a new card. That debt is only going to swell. Rather than embrace growth as our salvation, perhaps we should stop subsidizing it. Maybe it’s time growth be made to truly pay its own way. In fact, if we look realistically at the water situation over the long haul, we should consider severe limits on growth – raising impact fees substantially to reflect the true costs of highway improvements, importing water, new schools and, yes, even street lights!

Do we honestly think Colorado Springs will be a nicer place to live with 200,000 more people? We’ll stand in longer lines, traffic will crawl, water will be scarce and air-quality alerts routine. Rather than solved, our problems will be even bigger and more expensive than they are today. If we don’t bring in the jobs Rocky Scott is seeking, 200,000 people won’t move into the area chasing those jobs. Is there is a council or mayoral candidate with the backbone to speak up against continuing outdated practices which are now folly? If so, I predict voters will send a surprising message to the old guard with a landslide victory for that visionary.

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