Back in 2015, my husband and I were driving older vehicles. We still owned our oldest car, a 2000 Nissan Maxima. It was going strong, but it was taking a beating when traveling on the roads in Colorado Springs. We felt the condition of the roads was hurting both of our vehicles. We had no money in the budget for a car payment.
We’re very middle-class people. We make too much for our kids to get grants or assistance into college and yet, we look at our checking account at the end of each month, astonished over how much we had to pay out to live. Insurance, utilities, food, mortgage, medicine, etc. It was all adding up. And our teenage boys, who hadn’t even hit their growth spurts yet, were causing the grocery bill to skyrocket! We were at the end of our rope and my husband and I did something we have never, ever done before. We voted “yes” for a tax increase, the original 2C Pothole Tax. We crossed our fingers, hoping it would go well.
Fast forward to late September 2016. My kids and I loaded up into our 10-year old minivan on a beautiful fall day and headed to the school drop-off. As I made the right-hand turn onto Research Parkway from my Briargate subdivision, my jaw dropped.
“What the heck happened?” was what went through my mind as I saw an entire traffic lane marked up for exclusive use as a bike lane. What followed is legendary in Colorado Springs: “Restore Research.” It was a neighborhood uprising unlike anything that has ever happened in our city. By Christmas Eve, the Mayor caved, and we had our traffic lanes back.
What you didn’t know is that there were seven of us in the area who were working behind the scenes, leading the effort. We all took considerable time away from our families to fight a change that none of us asked for. I met some fabulous people and would do it all over again. Really, the question that we need to ask is why should citizens have to rise up in that manner in the first place?
“Restore Research” was the first time I had ever seen what goes on behind the curtains in government. Before that experience, all I had ever done was vote. I would read the handy dandy blue mailer booklet prior to filling out my ballot and move on with my life. “Restore Research” was eye-opening.
So, what did I learn?
- I learned that a traffic planner had purposely invited bicycle advocates to Briargate neighborhood meetings prior to the bike lane installation, and that those advocates urged the city to install the bike lanes, even though they didn’t live in my neighborhood.
- I learned that the bike planner, traffic planner, and bike advocates had “talking points” and that they wouldn’t deviate from those talking points, even when confronted with facts that proved them wrong.
- I learned that City government catered to a very small number of people and hoped the larger number will simply learn to adjust.
- I learned that they stack the deck against citizens who are just trying to go about their day-to-day lives, as it’s impossible for the average person to keep up with all of the ways they are wasting our money.
- I learned that when they say the word, “stakeholder”, they don’t mean you and me. They mean someone who has a special interest in changing something about a city we thought was just fine in the first place.
I am convinced that if voters, myself included, had said “no” to 2C in November 2015, the Research Parkway bike lanes would have never been installed in September 2016. When we voted “yes” for the tax increase, “we fed a beast.” As Springs Taxpayers founder Laura Carno says, we need to “starve the beast.” And we don’t mean that we want an underfunded city. Colorado Springs has record revenues and record spending. It needs to live within its means.
When 2C passed in November 2015, it was like Christmas morning for the Colorado Springs government. It freed up general fund money to be used in other, more creative ways. Government is a beast, and bureaucrats have an incentive to grow it larger and larger.
Meanwhile, our roads, our police, and our fire department are held hostage. Did you know the City spent only 53% of 2C revenues for paving and potholes? Another 39% went to curbs, gutters, and replacing sidewalks to meet ADA compliance. If only half is going for paving and potholes, don’t we deserve transparency about where the rest of the money is going? Why isn’t that in this year’s ballot language?
This time around, let’s give the City an opportunity to live within its means. Politicians need to let unnecessary city job positions attrite. Do we really need a bike planner? Let unnecessary departments go. Did you know the City has a newly created Office of Sustainability? Any idea what that is?
Without including the existing 2C money or Stormwater Fee, the 2020 City Budget will grow by $23 million or 7.5% next year. There is no mention of cuts anywhere. In the past 4 years, there have not been any cuts that we can find.
As someone who understands the temptation to vote yes for 2C, I urge you to learn from my experience and say NO this time around. More money flowing into the City will only make our lives more complicated. With record revenues flowing in, it’s time the City made proper choices. As they say, “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me.” Count me as a “NO” vote this time around. Don’t be fooled again.
Rebecca Marshall is a Colorado Springs resident and co-founder of SpringsTaxpayers.com.