DMI Blog

Amy Traub

Municipal Government Goes YOYO: Colorado Springs Cuts into the Bone

I’ve got a car, so it’s no problem if the woman cleaning my office can’t find a bus to get home at night.

I have a back yard, so who cares if the clerk ringing up my groceries has a safe and clean park to bring her kids to?

I paid to keep the lights on my block turned on, so why worry if the man who washes dishes at my favorite restaurant has to find his way home in the dark?

That appears to be the sentiment of some residents of Colorado Springs who, the Wall Street Journal reports, are eager to see yet more service cuts from the already skeletal municipal government.

Streetlights have been turned off (although residents who can afford to may choose to reactive their lights); the shrunken police department is relying on taxicabs to help with law enforcement; and neighborhood parks are being left to wither (people with time and resources may of course volunteer to maintain their own local green spaces). The Wall Street Journal reports on calls to shut down community centers. One man calls for further cuts to “stupid programs” – apparently the kind that other people rely on.

Call them the Municipal YOYOs, city residents who insist that You’re On Your Own when it comes to what were formerly core public services. At the federal level, it’s the same philosophy that contributed to the nation’s economic collapse, “shifting economic risks from the government and the nation’s corporations onto individuals and their families,” through wave after wave of deregulation and tax cuts. (Here I quote the succinct words of economist Jared Bernstein currently Economic Policy Adviser to Vice President Biden, who coined the term YOYO). Now that irresponsible Wall Street risk-taking has brought down the nation’s economy, and decimated local revenue from sales and property taxes, YOYO thinking is taking hold at the municipal level in the city of Colorado Springs.

Conservatives would like to see it come to a town near you.

The obstacle is this: at the city level, the consequences of YOYO are swifter and more visible than they are for states or the federal government. In addition to darkened streets, sparse police patrols, and browning parks, tent cities of the homeless sprung up in Colorado Springs (the city has since banned public camping). It’s precisely because of these swift and immediate consequences that city-dwellers are more likely to turn away from YOYOism and recognize instead that we’re in this together and are jointly responsible for funding the public services the community relies on. You may not regularly use your town’s public libraries, senior centers, or swimming pools, but odds are you are connected with someone for whom one or all of them is a lifeline.

As cities across America face budget shortfalls, we can reject YOYO thinking at the federal level by giving our own towns a break from the unrelenting fiscal bad news. Congress should swiftly pass the Local Jobs for America Act putting a million Americans to work by restoring services in local communities. It will help your town, and it may just help Colorado Springs in spite of itself.

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Posted at 10:30 AM, Apr 16, 2010 in Cities | Tax Policy
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