Former Colorado Springs City Councilman Sean Paige, who is the deputy director of the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, just emailed Mayor Steve Bach and the City Council the following letter:
Dear Mayor and City Council:
As the city of Colorado Springs begins debating its fiscal 2012 budget priorities, let’s take a moment to consider our circumstances. The national and regional economies remain in the doldrums. Unemployment rates and economic anxiety run high. Some experts are predicting a double dip recession. Possible cuts in defense spending cast additional shadows over the local economy. And Americans have made it clear that they are taxed to the max and expect government to share in the sacrifice by continuing to tighten its belt.
Given these circumstances, we believe Mayor Bach’s 2012 budget puts the city on the sensible, responsible, fiscally-sustainable path that these uncertain times demand. It keeps faith with the taxpayers by asking government to keep sharing in the sacrifice. It is cautious about future revenue projections, in recognition of economic uncertainties. It continues to rebuild the city’s reserve fund, which is something we may be grateful for on some future rainy day. And it doesn’t attempt to grow city bureaucracy. It’s a “conservative” budget in the best sense of the word: one designed to conserve core services, while holding the line on new spending or budget add-backs that may not be sustainable over time. It’s an austere budget for austere times. And we urge City Council to adopt the same restrained approach.
We applaud the mayor’s interest in conducting a review of the city’s pay and pension practices. With employee compensation consuming an ever larger slice of the budget pie, leaving little available for other priorities, it’s essential that these items be scrutinized. Recent news reports about “golden parachutes” being handed outgoing or retiring employees suggest that a scrub of the city’s personnel practices is needed. Escalating health care costs and pension payouts, if not brought under control, threaten the city’s financial stability. It’s neither onerous nor unfair to ask city employees to pay more into city health care and pension programs.
We urge City Council to join with the Mayor in undertaking a meaningful review and reform of the city’s pension programs. We can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand on this issue. The sooner the necessary fixes are made, the less painful those fixes will be. Words like “additional funding” and “new money” are just illusions when the city’s unfunded future liabilities are unidentified and unaddressed.
Finally, we agree with the Mayor that additional savings and efficiencies can be gained through a continual effort to optimize, innovate and partner with non-government entities. No areas of the city, including the police and fire departments, should be exempt from the obligation to optimize and evolve – to find creative ways to do more with less. We encourage the Mayor and City Council to create a culture inside city government that rewards and incentivizes productivity, economy, creativity, collaboration and customer service. Establishing an office of Innovation and Sustainability is a good first step in that direction, but without concrete action those are just trendy catchphrases.
We urge City Council to hold the line on total expenditures, as the mayor proposes, and err on the side of caution in revenue projections. Spending adjustments can be made later in the fiscal year if projections exceed expectations. Hastily or haphazardly restoring services that aren’t sustainable takes citizens on a rollercoaster ride, with services expanding or contracting erratically, depending on revenue fluctuations. Only services that can be funded over a multi-year period, and can survive a sudden decrease in revenue, should be considered for new or restored funding.
While we all hope for a dramatically improved economic and fiscal picture, it’s only prudent to be cautious given the uncertainties already described. Spending every dollar that comes in the door, and pumping-up revenue forecasts in a way that also pumps-up city spending, is the easy thing to do politically. But it’s not the fiscally responsible thing to do under the circumstances. Erring on the side of caution is much more responsible. These are the same steps average citizens are taking in response to the economic crisis.
Thank you, Mayor Bach and City Council, for all that you for the city. We know the task of setting budget priorities is especially tough in these fiscally-challenging times. We simply ask, as you go about this work, that you keep foremost in mind not the squeaky wheels who show up at City Hall, pleading for more funding or special treatment, but the silent majority of average citizens who rarely if ever show up at City Hall, asking for anything, but who expect the city to share in the sacrifices that these difficult times impose.
Best of luck with your budget deliberations. AFP-Colorado and our thousands of local activists will be watching with interest as you begin to make these difficult choices.
Deputy State Director, Americans for Prosperity Colorado