The Colorado Springs Experiment


In January The Denver Post ran a horror story about the budget crunch in Colorado Springs. The lede was "This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric," and the rest of the piece adopted the same tone; the article was widely linked on liberal blogs to show how terrible things can get when citizens refuse to pay for government.

Today The Wall Street Journal has a more balanced report on the situation in the city, one that doesn't ignore the problems the town is facing but doesn't dismiss the successes as well. Here's an excerpt:

Colorado Springs eternal

Like many American cities, this one is strapped for cash. Tax collections here have fallen so far that the city has turned off one-third of its 24,512 street lights.

But unlike many cities, this one is full of people who are eager for more government cutbacks.

The town council has been bombarded with emails telling it to close community centers. Letters to the local newspaper call for shrinking the police department and putting the city-owned utility up for sale. A commission is studying whether to sell the municipal hospital. Another, made up of local businessmen, will opine on whether to slash the salaries and benefits of city employees….

[F]aced with dwindling revenues, intransigent voters and widespread distrust of government, this city of 400,000 has embarked on a grand experiment: It is trying to get volunteers and the private sector to provide services the city can no longer afford.

Taxi drivers have been recruited to serve as a second set of eyes for stretched police patrols. Residents can pay $100 a year to adopt a street light. Volunteers are organizing to empty the garbage cans in 128 neighborhood parks. The city is asking private swimming programs to operate its pools, and one of the city's four community centers soon will be run by a church….

Many people here say the proper role of government should be limited to paving streets, paying police and firefighters and, if there's money left over, frills like parks. Those are, in fact, the only projects for which Colorado Springs voters have been willing to approve tax increases in recent years.

[Via Sean Paige.]