by Eric Martin
Life imitates art: an honest to goodness Galt's Gulch is beginning to take shape in Colorado Springs, and boy are the residents bringing to life the theory that government is never the solution. Behold, paradise's lost and found:
This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.
More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.
The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.
Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.
Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.
City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.
As Monica Potts points out:
Colorado requires a referendum to raise taxes, and the voters of Colorado Springs recently rejected a proposed property tax increase that would have helped cover a budget gap, after the recession lowered sales tax revenue by $22 million since 2007. So now, voters will see how good individuals are at protecting the common good.
This is the natural result when one of the two major political parties wages tax jihad and demonizes government and its appendages to the extent that people no longer grasp the extent to which government services actually ensure a certain standard of living, not to mention economic opportunity. Along those lines, it will be interesting to see how a community that bought the Club for Growth's dogma does in terms of actual growth. Thomas Levenson brings a heaping spoon of reality to the conversation:
This is, among other things, what folks like Megan McArdle never seem to get — not merely that governments do things that (a) private entities won’t and or can’t and (b) that are necessary if you are, say, going to have thousands or millions of folks living in close proximity to each other, and (c) those things that need to be paid for — by the people in common, that is to say, by government — include a bunch of stuff essential for a sound economy and any chance of achieving what is commonly thought of as the American way of life.
That is — it might be hard to quantify the contribution of adequate street lighting to GDP — but ask yourself what it would do to retail sales to have pools of darkness every thirty feet along a commercial street.
Or — it may not show up on a a monthly report of manufacturing output, but ask yourself whether the long-tail consequences of a diminished police presence in a factory district might include an impact on that district’s safety, and hence production — or if a change in fire response times could translate into altered insurance costs.
And you don’t even have to ask the speculative question about the value of investment in school facilities and in the quality of public schooling as discovered in very real dollars in the home valuations realized by property owners in the relevant districts. That’s one that answers itself.
See e.g. this recent NBER working paper for an account of facilities spending (institutional access required for the full paper. Abstract here.) (That there is a lot of complexity in the area of the private and public economic value of education I willingly concede. But the broad picture of improved schools = higher property values appears to hold.)
On the other hand, the GOP could probably suggest a way for Colorado Springs to turn around its flagging prospects. There's one thing they could do, one foolproof method to get the local economy humming once again, just cu...well, you know the rest.