Sales Tax Hikes: We Keep Begging for Them
Founder & Chair, SaveTheSprings
I happen to be one who believes we need the defeated countywide sales tax increase. While the election is behind us, 2009 city and county budgets are yet to be balanced, and we face a future that offers the certainty of both death and taxes. In fact, there is already talk of tax increases on the next ballots.
Tax increases seem to be a fact of life. Why is that? Haven’t we just experienced a turbocharged 15-year growth boom? Yet local backlogs and budget crunches didn’t appear suddenly with the economic meltdown. Backlogs have been festering and budget struggles present throughout that 15-year boom.
You’d think, if prosperity from growth were more than just an urban legend, we’d be enjoying tax reductions as our metro area doubles its population every 30 to 40 years. We could expect fewer and fewer fees, ever-improving service levels, and even declining utility bills. Yet our experience is clearly to the contrary.
Apparently we’ve left economies of scale behind, and reached a size where expansion brings diseconomies. Now growth requires disproportionate increases in service and infrastructure. Add the mounting cost of growth subsidies we allow in our quest for that elusive growth-induced prosperity, and here we sit.
Our mayor seems, on the one hand, to understand. Just last week he said, “As the community continues to grow … we’re going to have to have some other kind of funding.” Yet on the other hand he promotes and celebrates growth as though it will magically give us a magnificent return on our investment. Past performance offers NO rational basis for that hope.
Get used to it. So far, citizens have refused to insist our city and county assess growth for its true costs. We haven’t replaced officials who continue or increase public subsidies of new development. If we won’t require that growth pay its own way, then residents have no choice but to cover those costs ourselves. That means a steady stream of tax increases and utility rate hikes for a long, long time.
How did we get into this mess? Like most communities we’ve bought into the myth we must grow or die. Most of us believe, even if we hate the congestion, noise, crime and rudeness, that growth is necessary for prosperity. Growth does provide some prosperity, unfortunately these riches flow to growth industry millionaires…the result of privatizing the profits from growth while socializing the costs.
For example, the growth industry led the charge for the proposed sales tax increase. A developer led the campaign to preserve the stormwater enterprise. Growth boosters chant we must invest to have a quality community. Simultaneously they lobby for lower taxes for themselves, for economic development incentives (which boost commercial and residential real estate development), for subsidized utility connection fees, and for urban renewal development subsidies. It seems they want US to invest in our community, not them.
For our community, the evidence doesn’t support this “prosperity from growth” myth. We have crumbling bridges, insufficient stormwater management, failing sewer lines, traffic congestion delay more than tripled, broken streetlights, and school districts begging for tax increases. City and county budgets are strained serving more people with revenue that isn’t increasing fast enough. If new arrivals are paying their way, if growth equals prosperity, if our growth-based economic development strategy is working, why don’t we have the money to fund our needs?
So now local governments are strapped. Something has to go. Sadly the last thing they will cut is millions of dollars in growth subsidies. They consider these necessary to revive the growth boom. This would be the same growth that did NOT solve the financial challenges last time. It created most of them. But THIS time will be different. These are investments in a system that has been failing us. The evidence is right before our eyes, but the growth/prosperity mythology clouds our vision. Growth may have led to community-wide prosperity at one time. That time has passed.
Will citizens insist these subsidies be cut BEFORE gutting transit, police, fire, snowplowing, health, parks and other valued services? History would indicate you will not. So get ready for the next tax increase.
SaveTheSprings is a grass roots advocacy group promoting sustainability and quality of life in the Pikes Peak region. For information, visit savethesprings.org
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