The issue: The city is asking to retain millions in excess revenue to meet the demands of its infrastructure backlog.
What we think: It’s time to consider de-Brucing Colorado Springs — permanently.
Colorado Springs government once again has excess revenue — about $7 million from 2016 tax collections.
And once again, the city is asking to keep that excess revenue.
Under Colorado’s constitution currently, the city has to give that back to taxpayers, thanks to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, authored by Douglas Bruce, the infamous anti-tax advocate who recently spent time in prison for failing to pay taxes.
There are always people who believe that government has enough money, that the funds it does have are being misspent, and there’s no reason to hand over yet more revenue to the wasteful spenders in charge of city tax dollars.
Those people clearly don’t understand the tremendous stress on the city budget from years of delaying major projects, recovering from a major wildfire (and subsequent flooding) and mandatory upgrades to stormwater infrastructure to avoid still more lawsuits from our downstream neighbors, environmental groups and/or the federal government.
Mayor John Suthers is asking to retain the funds — something popularly known as “de-Brucing” — and the city is one of many governmental entities hoping to opt out of the complicated formula for keeping excess revenue. The formula combines a measure of population growth with increases in inflation. Even during boom times, governments across Colorado are forced to cut programs instead of saving for downturns or putting money toward much-needed infrastructure or other priorities.
The initiative will be on the April ballot, and will include possible excess revenue from 2017 as well, to prevent a costly special election in 2018 (city elections take place in odd-numbered years).
In Colorado Springs, much of the money will go toward stormwater fixes needed to meet the requirements of an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo. Under that long-term agreement, the city eventually must pay for about $460 million in upgrades to local infrastructure aimed at preventing flooding downstream. In addition, the city is facing federal and state lawsuits for violating its stormwater permits.
For residents, this will be the second de-Brucing — more than 70 percent of city voters last year allowed the city to keep $2.1 million to improve trails damaged by rain and flooding in May 2015.
In the birthplace of TABOR, it could be a harder sell this time around. It shouldn’t — if the initiative is turned down in April, residents will see a single credit of $36 on their bills from Colorado Springs Utilities.
And maybe it’s time to go a step further than the multi-year fix asked for on the April ballot. While no one argues that the government should ask voters before raising taxes, maybe it’s time to end TABOR’s stranglehold by removing revenue caps or by determining them in some other way.
When times are tough, it makes sense to have tighter state and local budgets — but when economic recovery is as strong and robust as it has been in Colorado, we should be able to invest in the state’s education, its roads and its infrastructure.
We should vote to keep the excess revenue for the next two years — and we should also lobby on the state level to changes to a restrictive amendment that makes it harder for government to meet the needs of its citizens.