Mayor John Suthers wasn’t content merely to win the mayoral election in 2015 and ease into the job as Colorado Springs’ second strong mayor.
Instead, he went with a very ambitious — and very risky — plan, asking Colorado Springs voters to increase sales taxes to fix the city’s crumbling streets.
It wasn’t an easy decision. Colorado Springs voters frequently turn down tax increases because they don’t believe the money is necessary or spent on the right priorities.
The city is known for its fiscal conservatives and for outspoken no-new-taxes critics like Douglas Bruce and Americans for Prosperity’s Laura Carno.
Except that the city’s voters do pass tax increases for causes they believe in and for limited purposes. In 1997, the Trails and Open Space tax passed on the second try, but voters didn’t need another chance to vote on the sales tax increase to repair potholes and sidewalks.
They approved the 0.62 percent sales tax increase by a 65-35 margin — and did so thanks to Suthers’ understanding of the complex electorate.
He made sure the tax increase was limited, lasting only five years (it could be renewed for another five years). And that it was crystal-clear the money will be used for — and only for — roads and street repairs.
This edition reviews the highs and lows of 2015, the achievements in real estate and in cybersecurity. It covers the economic development successes by the Regional Business Alliance and evidence of improved economic activity from the city’s sales tax reports. (See the Market Snapshot) But this year’s biggest news is 2C. Opponents said it couldn’t be done, wasn’t necessary and would fail. They were wrong.
Thanks to the support of City Council — and despite unethical, anti-tax rants from a vocal minority — the issue passed.
Voters saw the need and acted. It wasn’t hard to tell that the roads in Colorado Springs are in terrible shape. A drive to the office every morning was enough to show voters that repairs have been delayed far too long.
After the 2014 defeat of the stormwater fee, it was clear that something had to be done to address the increasing need to update the city’s aging infrastructure. The additional money for street repairs frees up $19 million for stormwater repairs — a drop in the bucket compared to the millions needed to really solve the problem, but necessary to try to mend relationships with the city of Pueblo.
But the November victory for 2C is just the beginning for Suthers. Colorado Springs residents will be watching in 2016 for clear and convincing evidence the money is being spent for road repairs. They’ll watch to see if their commute to work is smoother and if construction crews are out in force, repairing the worst city streets and the biggest potholes.
If they do, they’ll know their trust was rewarded and possibly extend the sales tax beyond the planned five years to cover more of the city’s infrastructure needs. But if the city is slow to start work or to designate priorities, Suthers’ big victory could be his last.
The mayor is one of the state’s consummate politicians — and he knows people in the Springs don’t raise taxes often. He’ll make the most of the tax increase — earning trust and gaining political capital should he choose a second term.
We’ll all be watching.