2 comments March 2nd, 2009at 06:59am Posted by Eli
The anti-tax diehards in El Paso and Colorado Springs are learning firsthand just what “small government” really means, but they still think it’s too big:
As property-tax rates tumble and sales-tax revenue evaporates, residents in the backyard of Douglas Bruce — the state’s leading evangelist of small government and small taxes — are learning just how small government can get. So far, voters have shown no inclination to part with any more tax dollars.
Now, local leaders are warning that with no fat left to cut, basic services such as law enforcement, courts, public health and child-abuse investigations are all in jeopardy.
El Paso County’s budget has shed $45 million over the past three years, clipped by the generosity of past tax-cutting county commissioners, stretched by the demands of a surging population and perpetually in the sights of limited-government forces.
“We don’t have enough funding to sustain our government at the level we need,” said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark.
With the nation’s economy imploding, the city of Colorado Springs is feeling similar pain.
The impacts are widespread:
• For years, the health department has lacked the staff to inspect restaurants and other food providers twice a year, as required by state law. Department director Kandi Buckland said it’s no coincidence that “in 2008, preliminary data showed El Paso County had the largest number of food-borne illness” in the state.
• The health department has stopped inspecting day-care centers and won’t inspect swimming pools this summer. That might make swimmers queasy, considering that last year, the department closed 80 pools — including six contaminated with E. coli.
• The Sheriff’s Office has the same number of patrol deputies it had in 1998, when there were 70,000 fewer residents. In some parts of the county, it takes deputies 22 minutes — more than double the ideal time — to arrive when someone calls 911.
• Most county offices are closed on Friday.
• When gas prices peaked last summer, Sheriff Terry Maketa ordered patrol cars parked. Deputies stopped cruising and instead waited for calls to come in. DUI arrests plummeted.
A group that called itself Citizens for Effective Government hoped to put the brakes on some of this by persuading voters to pay another penny per dollar in sales tax. They estimated that would have generated $75 million a year.
The proposal was routed by voters.
And rightly so, said the anti-taxman himself, Douglas Bruce.
“I know how much money they waste,” Bruce said. He writes about that topic on his website, which includes a 42-item list of what he calls wasteful county spending.
“They’re pouring money out like it’s a broken fire hydrant,” said the former county commissioner, who disputes the notion that the county budget is shrinking.
He also questions the need to pay county staff so much and for paid vacations. “Why are we paying people to have a vacation?”
Finley said city and county departments have done such a good job of making do with so little that many people haven’t actually felt the effects yet.
“I don’t think they understand until it impacts them directly. Until they walk up to the DMV and pull on a door and it’s locked because it’s Friday, and they have to pay a late fee because they waited until the last day or until they call 911 on the Eastern Plains and the sheriff can’t respond for an hour.”
People will only get it, Finley said, when it impacts them.
I think their grand Norquistian we-don’t-need-no-steenking-government experiment is very close to imploding, if it hasn’t already. And I’m having a really hard time feeling sorry for them. Small government is what the people of El Paso and Colorado Springs demanded, and small goverment is what they’ve got.