Strong opinions, weakly held

The new Republican dystopia

Every day we see a lot of boneheaded proposals from Republicans at every level of government, arguing that taxes are too high and that government spending is basically a big waste. Most Republicans seem to be content to argue that we should cut taxes and eliminate the deficit, and also that military spending should be held at the same level or raised, and, more recently, that Medicare cuts are off limits. There doesn’t seem to be any concern over whether this philosophy is in any way coherent.

Colorado Springs is helpfully providing a working example of Republican governance at work, which the rest of us can learn from. The Denver Post has the details:

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled. The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won’t pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.

The list goes on in the article.

Colorado Springs has the same problem as government at every level. The recession has driven tax receipts way down and employee benefits continue to get more expensive. It seems to me that liberals and conservatives seem to share largely the same expectations of what services shout government provide, but Republicans believe that the amount of taxes the government collects are not relevant to that level of service.


  1. This is an interesting “experiment,” whether they realize it or not, that the citizens of Colorado Springs are undertaking. I hope some valuable lessons are learned (and not just in Colorado).

    As read on in the Denver Post article, I got a clearer and clearer mental picture of what’s going to happen in Colorado Springs: have you ever played SimCity, and abruptly cut off all city funding?

  2. I assume you know that Colorado Springs has … um … moved substantially in religious perspective of late.

    Visiting there a few years ago, it was the first time in my life I’ve ever been asked by checkout people in stores if I’ve been ‘saved.’ In more than one store/gallery, on the same day!

    Your post is symbolic of what the rest of the country will experience, if we let the dystopians gain ground. Infrastructure’s already starved nearly to death.

  3. Wow. This has to be one of the most ignorant political posts I’ve ever seen. Do you really think Republicans and Democrats have the same ideas about the size of government? Republicans want smaller government, period. Do you really think the experiences of one small, inconsequential city mean anything?

    Look at the federal government. Trillion-dollar deficits, projected for years to come. And the money isn’t being spent on streetlights. It’s going to ridiculous make-work programs, Democratic campaign contributors, massive increases in salary and benefits for public employees, and support newly state-owned enterprises like GM. Republicans believe those are all illegitimate uses of public money. Is this really so hard to understand?

    I recently subscribed for your tech writing — but if this is the level of sophistication of all your other posts, I’m gone.

  4. The idea that Republicans, in practice, want smaller government in any meaningful way is not supported by any facts that I’ve seen. They ran the country for most of the previous decade and didn’t make any progress toward that goal! You should stick around, Brett, it gets boring when my conservative friends don’t beat up on me in the comments.

  5. “Businessman Fowler, saying he is now speaking for the task force Bartolin supports, said the city should study the Broadmoor[ resort]’s use of seasonal employees and realistic manager pay.”

    This seems to me the crux of the matter politically: “how dare those government employees have decent jobs with good pay and health insurance!” Sigh.

  6. “They ran the country for most of the previous decade and didn’t make any progress toward that goal!”

    You are correct, but a substantial portion of Republican voters view that as a betrayal rather than the proper order of things. The problem is that politicians of all stripes have trouble resisting the temptation to dole out heaps of cash to their own pet interests… Democrats are simply more tolerant of taxes to fund the gravy train.

  7. Incidentally, the article doesn’t say anything about tax cuts, or a refusal to adopt alternative revenue plans. The city’s tax base was built on sales tax, and the economy slammed it. Funds have dried up.

    What, if any, proposals have been made by anyone to make up the lost revenue so that those basic services can be funded?

  8. I do draw a pretty sharp distinction between people who are fiscally and temperamentally conservative and the Republican party as an institution. That said, most voters (Democrats, Republicans and Independents) don’t really have a coherent political philosophy. Most don’t know who Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are.

  9. Rafe,

    What is your suggestion then when a government runs into a situation where the tax receipts aren’t enough to cover expenditures?

    Surely it can’t be to borrow until you hyperinflate your way out of it?

    Cary, NC has slashed a lot of projects from their budget as a result of the recession because they need to keep their fiscal house in order. That’s how it should be. They aren’t spending more than they can afford.

    I don’t know nearly enough about Colorado Springs to comment on how bad their budget is, or if the steps they are taking are the only ones left or the least worst places to cut.

    What I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the current fiscal “discipline” as exercised by both R’s and D’s in Washington DC is going to lead us down a path to big trouble, if it hasn’t already.

  10. I think that any enterprise, whether it’s a company, a government, or a family has two options when expenses and income don’t match up — “spend less money” and “make more money”. Republicans seem to not only eliminate “make more money” as an option, but in fact suggest “make less money” as part of the solution.

  11. Rafe,

    The problem is the government doesn’t “make” money, they “take” money.

    I’m less interested in what Republicans have done and more interested in what Democrats will do. The Republicans are out of power, making them the bogey man doesn’t help solve the problems at hand. Or maybe “deficits don’t matter” any longer now that Democrats are in charge.

  12. What is your suggestion then when a government runs into a situation where the tax receipts aren’t enough to cover expenditures?

    Well, in Philadelphia, they started slashing services, trying to sell off library buildings, and a lot of other short-term measures, and citizens rebelled. We formed a Coalition for Essential Services which argued that there are certain social services the elimination of which will slow the recovery and wreck the long-term prospects of the city, and that there are progressive solutions that make it possible to help the worst-hit weather the downturn without gutting everything that makes the city worth living in. For example, a small increase in local taxes was much more palatable than politicians had thought. Or looking at gaps and loopholes in the revenue stream — in our case, there are huge businesses here that avoid paying city taxes by having token headquarters elsewhere, and there are tax mechanisms for making them contribute their part (proportionate to the amount of business they actually do in the region). Obviously, in tight times, belts have to be tightened — and maybe a year or two without watering the grass isn’t the end of the world — but there are also ways to think about what your critical services are, and also what the city will need to flourish long-term, and that can greatly change the way you balance your choices.

  13. There is a very simple answer to a lack of money coming from taxes. All we need to do is start taxing the organized religions.

    • property taxes (did you know that the Catholic Church is the largest landowner in the world?)
    • taxes on donations (this alone is billions of dollars a year).
  14. Republicans are amazingly myopic. They haven’t had a budget surplus since Richard Nixon was president, over 40 years ago.


    Look at the table on page 28 and 29 of this PDF from the GPO. These are the actual budget numbers. Obama is at least trying to turn the ship around, but even he won’t be able to get us back to a surplus in his tenure.

    No republican is interested in fiscal responsibility, or at least not one that has exerted any influence in the last 40 years. Clinton passed his budget without a single republican vote; Gore had to walk up the hill and cast the tiebreaker.

    I only hope reason can rule for a while longer so we can make more forward progress before the republicans manage to elect another idiot to blow it for us all again.

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