If you were around these parts in 1972, you may remember the slogan “Don’t Californicate Colorado.” That was the informal rallying cry of Colorado residents who were opposed to hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics, and successfully killed the project in a statewide referendum.
Opponents cited multiple reasons for nixing the games, but focused principally upon growth and its discomforts.
Between 1960 and 1980, Colorado’s population soared from 1.75 million to 2.9 million. It was an era of frenzied development that appalled many, especially the so-called “California burnouts” who had fled that state.
Choked freeways, rampant crime, high taxes, loss of community, peaceful mountain streams cluttered with novice anglers, dope-smoking/do-nothing hippies littering the landscape … we say no, we’re not gonna let you use tax money to make developers rich and let the rest of us pick up the bill.
It seemed like a great victory for fed-up locals, environmentalists and anti-development troglodytes — but it wasn’t. The anti-Olympic movement didn’t make a dime’s worth of difference, as Colorado’s explosive growth continued unabated.
Now estimated at around 5.8 million, the state’s population has doubled since 1980.
That rate of increase, which has seemed to accelerate in the past several years, was utterly predictable. Voters, elected officials and governments at every level should have realized what was coming and acted accordingly, but they failed to do so.
Rather than consenting to fund education, transportation, public safety and water infrastructure, voters embraced tax and revenue limitation for state and local governments. In effect, we Californicated ourselves, creating a hot mess that’s very difficult to fix.
Of those 5.8 million residents, about 5 million live along the Front Range. Greeley, Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Trinidad and scores of suburban communities — we’re all in this together, guys! We’re linked by the unspeakable horror of Interstates 25 and 70, the unavoidable black hole of DIA and the apparent certainty that things will get worse every year — more expensive, more gridlocked, more crowded and less pleasant.
We have some decisions to make. If present trends continue, we’ll add at least 1 million residents every decade. It’s long since time to figure out how to house, educate, transport, employ and provide water to these folks without seriously compromising our quality of life.
That means we’ll have to pay it forward and renounce our taxophobic past. By passing the Douglas Bruce-authored Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights amendment to the Colorado Constitution in 1991, Colorado voters thumbed their noses at the future, creating often-insurmountable barriers to long-term infrastructure funding.
Before Bruce bullied it through, much of the business community opposed TABOR as did many moderate Republicans who then held state and local offices. But once it passed, TABOR became the third rail of Republican state politics; touch it and you die!
I’d guess that TABOR repeal now would be opposed by 60 percent of El Paso County voters, who pretend to believe that repeal would transform our beloved state into New Jersey in the Rockies, complete with confiscatory taxes and sleazy pols.
So what can we do to solve the problem? We can complain and do nothing. As one politician (not Joe Biden!) said to a young constituent decades ago during the energy crisis, “We found our oil, so don’t blame us! Go find your own.” We can appoint blue-ribbon commissions that will release voluminous reports that no one will read, much less act upon.
Or we can get serious with a bipartisan plan to repeal and replace TABOR. We can ask voters to approve a Front Range transportation tax that would fund passenger rail and major highway projects. We should realize that sales taxes are already much too high, and think about a region-wide property tax and/or real estate transfer tax.
And who knows? We might even approve it, especially if a Democratic administration tempted us with matching grants.
Realistically, none of that’s going to happen. Stop-and-go traffic will devolve into stop-and-stop, the wildflower-trampling multitudes will completely take over the high altitudes and only the very rich will have extensive bluegrass lawns. Colorado Springs’ convenient little airport will become expensive and inconvenient, while DIA eventually becomes impossible.
As for me, I’ll stay at home, cultivate our garden, read old books, walk the dogs and occasionally drive five blocks to my favorite bar in Old Colorado City.
Californication suddenly seems just fine!