DMI Blog

Harry Moroz

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Cities throughout the country are imposing spending cuts to deal with yawning budget deficits created by decreased tax revenue. But Colorado Springs has taken a particularly blunt ax to its budget (via T4A):

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...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.

The impact of such city service cuts is often noted in newspaper articles and blog items about the degradation in quality of life that ensues for households already cutting back on basic necessities. First, no more movies and restaurants. Now, no more museums and, well, weekend transportation.

But these budget-balancing measures are not just cuts to "perks" that come with living in a city. In many cases, they are the very foundations of prosperity - or recovery - in cities. Conservatives emphasize the need for public safety to keep cities crime-free, but when trash is not picked up, pools aren't opened, and buses don't run, costs - from trash removal to daycare to gasoline - are shifted to the families already coping with the effects of the Great Recession. When city governments employ fewer individuals, fewer people contribute to the health of the local economy and require more state and city services.

The cycle of declining tax revenue, budget deficits, and service cuts will make it difficult for many cities to recover quickly and equitably from the Great Recession. Colorado Springs, where a Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR) severely restricts spending, is in a particularly dangerous situation. Some fear that the city will never fully recover from the downturn because TABOR essentially locks in spending cuts during times of budget austerity. As the current Colorado House Speaker told J. Adrian Stanley of the Colorado Springs Independent:

There's an old saying, 'Garbage in, garbage out,' and 'You get what you pay for'...And basically, by our inability to pay for quality services, you get garbage at the end of the day.

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Posted at 11:58 AM, Feb 05, 2010 in Cities
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