I guess this is what a libertarian paradise looks like:
COLORADO SPRINGS -- 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.
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.
I don't know who wants to live like this. Of course, if you're well-heeled, these sort of problems might seem perplexing (italics mine):
Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each.
Businessman Fowler, saying he is now speaking for the task force Bartolin supports, said the city should study the Broadmoor's use of seasonal employees and realistic manager pay.
Because $24,000 for a family is a whole whopping 33% more than the poverty threshold. And the slackers should be thankful for that! Seriously, there are two types of conservatives: millionaires and suckers. But Colorado Springs does have a lot of suckers--it's home to Focus on the Family...
On a less snarky note, do you think this is a temporary setback, or is this the beginning of a trend of suburban decay? Because this is exactly what happened when cities became defunded. Public spaces degraded and became uninviting, which led to crime in those areas, followed by lowered property values (and tax base) and flight. Despite what some might think, I actually don't want suburbs to decay (just pay their fair share); in fact, the subsidies to state and local governments, which I called for two years ago, would help places like Colorado Springs.
Will have to look into data further....
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for people in this country to live within their means (including general means like energy and materials consumption), they will need to accept decrements in standard of living and decrements in compensation for their labor. government's only option is to tax the rich more heavily and distribute this as public services to make up for the gap between actual and desired living standards for the masses. the point of compensation is where the masses have found a newer, lower equilibrium, and the rich have become less topheavy.
but first, the masses have to notice the gap, and to do that we have to *undershoot* the new equilibrium. people (read: the people with political effect, the suburban class) will only start to soak the rich when they see an appreciable decrement in their standard of living, and that's not happening yet. if there's somewhere else you can move, if there's another suburbia which isn't yet a wasteland that's still accepting tenants, it's like a pressure release valve, which further delays perception of the decrement.
solution: on with the libertarian paradise! let everyone see what it's like when they personally contract out all government services. let everyone jump into that dark pit, and watch them all start scrambling for the light! it's another version of the whole "tear it all down" tradition, but what else can be done? either continue on course and go broke, or sell everything off by choice and start over again.
the simple alternative would be for common people to accept what the informed "elites" have been telling them for decades: tax the rich, build social services, cut militarism. but so long as those elites are sufficiently villainized by the rich and the fanatical libertarians, they will not be accepted popularly except in times when it appears that the bottom is actually going to drop out of things - e.g. ca. October 2008. when some meager recovery or stabilization takes place, everyone promptly forgets what they were thinking all along...
Let us see how this minimal government experience will work out...
A slightly silly premise for a blog, based on the quoted article.
Read the linked article, how about?
The city of Colorado Springs is in trouble because of overpaid city workers and a massive pension fund which is burning through the city's budget. The residents refused the tax increase not because they disliked the services or even the taxes, but because of a lack of confidence that the city would spend the money on those services.
How about touching on that that - the point of the tax protest isn't about being taxed unfairly but about the waste in the current situation of the taxpayer's money, and why in hell should they not demand that their money be spent wisely? Colorado Springs looks like they're wasting a whole lot of money if they're really paying city workers on average $89k. I mean what are all these city employees, lawyers and accountants? Last time I checked that was a fair salary for a manager at an IT company in Silicon Valley, much less a city worker in Colorado Springs...
Of course, the relevant measure in talking about salaries and income is the median, not the average.
The mayor and city council is a part-time job that earns $6,000 a year?!?!
They get what they pay for!
"The residents refused the tax increase not because they disliked the services or even the taxes, but because of a lack of confidence"
Hmm. Let's read that article:
"Fowler and many other residents say voters don't trust city government to wisely spend"
Fowler? Who's Fowler?
""I guess we're going to find out what the tolerance level is for people," said businessman Chuck Fowler, who is helping lead a private task force brainstorming for city budget fixes. "It's a new day.""
LOL! And Triple LOL! A "businessman"? Someone leading a city budget financing taskforce is not simply a businessman, or a resident - he's a politician. Yet another rich right-wing elite sapping wealth from the public sphere and spouting fake populism.
"Community business leaders have jumped into the budget debate, some questioning city spending on what they see as "Ferrari"-level benefits for employees and high salaries in middle management."
Need I say more? "Community business leaders" again.
"Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each."
Jesus. A man running a luxury resort is complaining about public service salaries (and you just know, dont you, that that number is a mean, not a median). And I'd just had my irony meter fixed ...
Shorter #1: "The worse, the better."
@Siaming that's a big problem at least in Colorado - low salary implies that it's truly a public service being performed. In reality, only the well-healed can afford to run in the first place and live on a paltry salary.
"Pay" includes benefits, and it isn't really moral to cut those for workers who put themselves at risk in the short and long term for their careers.
Colorado Springs is an urb, and "sub" only in terms of community cohesion (I was about to write "spirit", but that word has a different meaning in hotbeds of superstition religiosity).
The (ahem) person paying his serfs $2K/month runs a resort. Has Cullen Tillotson thought through the implications of a municipal government where quality of service depends on the size of the customer's tip?
That's an interesting comparison. I wonder how many police officers his resort employs. Or how many of the city's firefighters will work for $2.13/hour plus tips.
What a bizarre metric.
You should take some time to read the comments. The "I've got my guns!!! I don't need no gubmint!!" writers are great.
Mike, while I enjoyed the read, we libertarians are for minimum "essential" government -- a fact that is lost on the neo-cons who recently co-opted the tea party movement and call themselves "conservatives." Obviously, we need functions such as law & order and emergencies services as long as the government insists on subsidizing the free market. But I dare say the libertarians are hardly running the show, even in Colorado Springs.
I am not suggesting all city employees be paid $27k per year, or that they be dependent on (and taxed on!) tips to survive. I am suggesting that if the average is $89k, the someone is being wildly overpaid. My father was the city attorney of a medium-sized midwest city; he didn't get paid that much, even when you included all the benefits which were pretty damn good.
@Paul Murray - City businessmen does not automatically mean 'Capitalist pig-dog banker raping the working class for personal benefit'. I also didn't realize the choice was limited to either that or Socialist activists actively working to make the situation worse in order to force implementation of social change, or that the only people involved in municipal politics fit one of those lunatic extremes. Perhaps he is exactly what he says he is - someone concerned about the way his tax dollars are being spent.
How about responsible spending in the first place on truly essential services? How about letting the people decide in this wonderful Republic of ours how they want their communities run, rather than forcing an agenda down their throats they clearly don't want?
Finally, for every local businessman being accused of rapacious capitalist sins, it sounds like you've got 1 or possibly 2 Colorado Springs city employees who are overpaid and with too many benefits bankrupting the city coffers and forcing services to be pared back for lack of funds. How about addressing the real problem, rather than politcal point-scoring at the expense of the citizenry?
You have to be careful in using that $89k figure. That Bartolin guy said that the city spends $89k per employee. In my experience, phrasing that way often means that it includes spending on retirees. During the auto company bailout debate, a figure that was often brought up was how the (formerly) big three had labor costs of around $70 per hour and that the extra expense was for the generous retirement packages the unions got for their members. The labor costs at the U.S. plants of Japanese auto makers in the South were much lower because they were newer and didn't have the same legacy costs of a generation of retired employees.
Basically, we need more information than was in that article to analyze what's going on in Colorado Springs, as Mike pointed out.
I am suggesting that ... it sounds like...
Facts, my man, facts. 'Round here at SciBlogs, we likes us some facts.
As Mike Smith pointed out in # 8, the game was rigged a while back that only the independently wealthy can hold city office in Colorado Springs, so the game was rigged a while ago. Given the usual Republican pattern of crony capitalism, you may even have a point that a few insiders are - like "top executive talent" in the corporate world - wildly overpaid, but I rather doubt that "1 or possibly 2 Colorado Springs city employees who are overpaid" are enough to eviscerate the city budget.
Do you really think the citizens in the wonderful Republic of Holyrado Springs decided they want dark streets, dead grass in the parks, and inadequate police & fire services? They're getting what they, in effect, chose when they supported a local version of Bushonomics, but doesn't it look like they (a) never thought about it, (b) were dumb enough to believe the sort of "it's that irresponsible liberal elite!" jive you're offering, and/or (c) figured they could make up the difference by prayer?
@Pierce R. Butler - I'm going to ignore your snide tone and reply honestly.
First and foremost, no-one has the facts in this case and I certainly don't claim to. We're all going off the same piece of information - a story in the Denver Post which Mike the Mad Biologist uses to posit this situation as the end result of the Libertarian dream. I'm sure you believe that your opinions, by simple virtue of being yours, hold more merit than mine and are factually based; allow me to disagree.
The game wasn't rigged that only the independently wealthy could hold office - that's quite misleading at best if not outright disingenuous. The mayor and city council officers don't need to be full-time employees in order to do their jobs so were only given part-time salaries, thus trying to save the city some money. It's less to do with politics and a whole lot more to do with realistic workload. The advantage of this system is that people don't run for city council as a job-for-life like Congress, instead only running if they actually want to accomplish something and with the full realisation that it's not their day job so you do tend to get slightly more switched-on people who actually want to make a difference. My home town had a similar setup and it didn't do much harm and kept the Council and the Mayor mostly honest.
As for crony capitalism, how do you know the politics of the city council? All we have to go on is the fact that your assumed Republican / Capitalist Rapist are the ones forming the independent budget review board, which would seem to be not part of the city council if they're complaining so mightily that the city is mis-spending taxpayer dollars. Wouldn't that mean that actually the Republicans you clearly despise are actually *out* of power, not in it? How much cronyism do you get from people not actually able to hire or fire, anyways?
Colorado Springs is a small-to-medium town in a Conservative area with a lack of big industry of any description that has long struggled to raise income via taxes. How many overpaid employees at the city level would it take to bankrupt the city budget? 1? 2? 10?
And yes, the people of Colorado Springs didn't want to pay high taxes. But you're condeming them as idiots with no forethought as well as exposing your own religious intolerance when the reality is that they wanted the services but didn't want the overhead which they were being forced to pay. Who can blame them?
This reminds me a lot of the situation here in MI, with our Repub legislature cutting school funding like it's going out of style. Much like this situation, we have business people telling us our taxes are too high, we need to cut spending, etc., when we haven't had a decent tax raising in ages. At some point we're going to be cutting teacher's salaries, which means worse teachers in the schools because no experienced teacher will take our low pay. People like Mr. Tillotson seem to think that private industry is the only source for jobs, and public jobs are just wasteful spending. Well, those city employees were probably people who spent money in the community, helped keep businesses alive with their patronage, and now Capitalist McMoneypants wants to pay them a Bob Cratchit salary, just like we want to do with our teachers. Well I'm no economist, but when less people have money to spend, it seems like businesses are going to go under, no matter how many generous tax breaks we give them. And you know what? I don't begrudge our teachers for their salaries (especially considering how low they are already). They do a valuable job in the community, and frankly I'm willing to pay for it, even if I don't have kids. Just like I want to pay for streetlights on streets I don't live on, cops even though I never call them, firemen even though my house hasn't burned down. It's a matter of good governance, employing people who will spend money, and protecting our citizens from being thrust into a Mad Max-style suburban nightmare (ok, now I want to make a movie about Mad Max in Desperate Housewives land).
@Rob Monkey - I really wish people would stop putting words in my mouth. It's a most disagreeable way to debate.
I never once said that the Public sector jobs are wasteful spending; I simply stated that in a small to mid-sized city in Colorado, an average salary of $89k would indicate to me that some city workers are overpaid, not that they are non-essential. As this is the case in lots of municipalities, it wouldn't surprise me as city jobs are frequently one step short of Union jobs for high levels of benefits and salary. I further stated that the residents of the town, in voting down property tax increases, may have had a valid argument as they are already paying money for services which they believe are not being well spent.
I too am willing to pay for police I don't call and lights on streets I don't walk on; although I am an American citizen and pay US Federal income tax, I live in England and pay substantially more for services I am not even legally entitled to use, as well as paying a substantial amount for National Insurance (aka the NHS) and Private Insurance at the same time. I pay these taxes somewhat happily, as I know that these services benefit those in far more need than I am.
I certainly didn't turn this into a political blame-fest, I just thought that the blog was a bit one-sided and silly, and not accurately reflecting the thrust of the article and unfairly portraying the people of Colorado Springs.
Hey, don't mean to put words in your mouth, I looked at my previous post and kinda did, so apologies. As it is though, aren't you suspicious of an "average" figure? Like those "average" auto workers previously mentioned? What types of city jobs are included here? Lawyer? Doctor? Some positions seem like 89K is reasonable, especially when you figure in insurance, which could probably knock that 89 down to 70K or less. How long did they work for the city? So yeah, you seem like you just want to get the other side out there, but it seems that arguments like yours are often used to justify paying people a pittance simply because they don't work for private industry, which is a recipe for shitty public services in general. Not to say that this is your position mind you, just that's what these excuses are usually used for.
I am suggesting that if the average is $89k, the someone is being wildly overpaid. My father was the city attorney of a medium-sized midwest city; he didn't get paid that much, even when you included all the benefits which were pretty damn good.
Seriously? What year was this, and what was the median income in the area? How are you doing the math on the total spent?
If I can hire a staff attorney to work for me full time for a year and be out of pocket less than $89K when all is said and done, I'll be stunned. Most people are shocked at what it actually costs to employ somebody once you add up the benefits and overhead associated with them (which is almost certainly added together when he uses the word "spend" rather than "pay"). The number doesn't look anything like their actual salary.
FWIW, national median pay for a firefighter runs around $60K w/o benefits. Colorado Springs is not a low-cost-of-living area and firefighters are quite mobile so their pay pretty much has to track costs or they go somewhere they can afford.
Police, maybe a bit less.
Also note: most businesses calculate "cost/employee" complete with amortized real estate, utilities, etc. which generally comes close to doubling the nominal pay rate. If that's the case, those $89K/yr employees are making pretty close to the national median wage.
Ayn Rand clears it up for me, which is why I miss the libertarian 19th century true Democrats, the ones who followed Jefferson and Madison and were closest to Rand, not the ones like Obama who now follow Rousseau and Marx, as cited in The Changing Face of Democrats on Amazon and claysamerica.com.
A simple web search reveals that the $89K/yr figure is misleading - the average salary is in the vicinity of $61K, which is near the national average for a police officer or fireman.
So Bartolin is lumping in benefits, which is fair for comparison purposes - but when you compare the salaries and benefits of professional, experienced public servants to the salaries of hotel servants, it's not too surprising that the hotel workers get the short stick. What he's really demonstrating is that he pays crap wages to the people who make his business run.
@troublesome frog - my father died in 1998, so slightly out of date, but his take-home was never more than $65K and benefits about $10k. I can't imagine he'd have needed $89k total benefits and salary to do his job. He was a simple man who didn't want the big money, he just wanted a fair salary for a fair day's work.
@Rob Monkey - thank you. I am purely trying to get out the other side in the debate. I'm no Randite, nor am I a Libertarian, but the fact is that sometimes public spending is out of control and needs to be reigned in. If you're paying too many people but can't afford services, then something is out of whack and needs to be fixed, desperately.
In my experience, both here in the UK and in the US before that, quite frequently Public jobs swap salary for benefits in their total renumeration package; Private / Corporate jobs seem to go the other way. Perhaps it's true to state that Colorado Springs city employees *are* getting 'Ferrari' level benefits on 'Chevy' paychecks and the taxpayers would rather Chevy paychecks get Chevy benefits when they're footing the bill.
For the sake of argument, I'll assume that he was working and not retired in 1998. Using the CPI for inflation alone, his salary (minus benefits) would have been about $85,500 in 2008. The average family's health insurance bill per year looks to be just over $13,000 per year right about now, so that's approaching $100K right off the bat.
Is there any sort of retirement/pension plan? Surely there must be. It's pretty clear to me that the defined benefit plan is going the way of the dinosaur, but it wasn't so much during your father's career. Those are expensive.
Finally, you didn't mention what he cost of living in that location is. As another poster pointed out, Colorado Springs is not the cheapest place to live, so one can expect salaries across the board to be a bit higher.
I'm going to assume (generously) that the original $89K figure was only salary plus appropriately discounted value of that particular employee's future benefits. It's not uncommon to see people do things like take the sum of all salaries/benefits plus currently paid pensions for retirees and then divide them by currently active workers to get an even bigger number.
Even without correcting for that trick, it's easy to see how those numbers could rapidly approach the $90K range. It depends on the breakdown of city employees. If you have a lot of police and firefighters supplemented with general office staff, accountants, etc. and not a lot of gardeners and towel washers, it's very hard to see employeeing the "average" worker on the cheap. Given the fact that health care costs are growing far faster than inflation, it's not surprising to see a spike in public employee costs, especially relative to seasonal wage earners with no benefits.
Until somebody can do a proper apples to apples comparison, it seems to me that the numbers we're dealing with are crap.
Cullen Tillotson - you're right about none of us having enough data to nail any of this down with much confidence. Otherwise, alas...
According to Wikipedia, CS isn't that small a town (380,307; 47th in size in the US). If you really think an operation of that size can be run (well) by a handful of amateur part-timers, you might be just the person an online correspondent of mine needs to help process some Nigerian bank transfers.
And if you think Democrats or Greens of Colo. Spgs. have had a snowball's chance in Fallujah since the Dobsons & Haggards took over, you probably wouldn't recognize crony capitalism if it kicked down your door and crapped on your TV Dinnerâ¢.
I'm condemning the voters of CS "as idiots" (pls cease and retract all complaints about others putting words in your mouth) with much more background evidence than you assume, having followed with slack-jawed amazement the chronicles of the hyperchristian hordes there and elsewhere for decades. (Read Jeff Sharlet for a good intro.)
Also pls note they do have a local "industry" - no, two. One's called the US Air Force Academy, whereby the taxpayers subsidize the local economy by multi-millions, decade after decade. The other (actually just the flagship of a numerous fleet) is the aforementioned Focus on the Fantasy Family, an operation big enough to have its own zip code, importing nine digits of cash (the only such scam more lucrative than Pat Robertson's) every year from credulous sheep across Gawd's Country. Imagine what shape Colorado Springs would be in if they had to depend on actual productive work, like farming.
The reality-based community, they're not. Unfortunately, as our esteemed host suggests, they are quite likely just the avant-garde of the proverbial lemmings stampeding our country off the teabag cliffs.
Pierce - you may have a point about Focus on the Family, an organisation I abhor, and I had forgotten about the Air Force Academy, but those two still don't make up 'industry' in my mind. It's not exactly manufacturing or banking and service industry jobs don't generally make for strong median or average wages for a community - look at Montana where you've got rich landowners, a few mines, and a sprinkling of professionals (Doctors and Lawyers and Accountants) and pretty much everybody else works serice jobs for an hourly wage and no benefits or is a rich immigrant from out-of-state who made big bucks elsewhere. Not exactly thriving for the natives.
Yes, I do believe a part-time mayor and council would be fine for a town population of 380k. Seattle has a full-time mayor but only a part-time council and they seem to get along fine and have nearly double the population of Colorado Springs.
I still find it amazing, if the Conservatives are forming independent committees to review budgets and spending as we all assume they are, that they are also in political power in the community.
Cullen - I was using "industry" in the broad sense of large-scale income-generating activity, and in that sense Colorado Springs does have some major advantages over just about every other US community.
And, as an activist long involved in the affairs of a town half the size of CS, I still maintain that municipal politics does require serious full-time management. I suspect CS - and Seattle too - function only by relying on a powerful City Manager and professional department heads. Whether that's preferable to elected leadership is an open question, but it's probably a major reason why the citizenry is reported to feel so thoroughly disaffected in CS.
As for the "independent" review committees, I advise you not to accept such adjectives at face value without careful confirmation. (The same applies for the proposed federal SocSec/Medicare-chopping commission.)
Wikipedia reports that the city is also a high-tech center, so it's not totally dependent on Uncle Sugar and Big Daddy Dobson et al. Of course, Verizon, HP, etc have bought & used quite a few pink slips in the last two years.
Finally, it occurred to me on the way to my pillow last night that both of the "industries" I named for Colorado Spgs feature significant fiscal disadvantages for the city as a financial industry. Probably the USAF Academy is outside city limits, so the point is moot there (except for El Paso County), but I betcha the lion's share of those churches and other ministries are tax-exempt, meaning a disproportionate share of the local real estate contributes nothing directly to the municipal coffers. The employees still have to pony up every year, and every time they do business with a local cash register, but the City of Colorado Springs may well be starved for income, relatively speaking.
I have the usual Howling Atheistâ suggestion to make about that, but I'm quite sure the voters of CS would rather see their parks become dustbowls and criminal gangs raging through their unlit streets than to touch of penny of The Lord's Loot.
Oops - in graf 5 of # 29, that should read "city as a financial entity."
And, as an activist long involved in the affairs of a town half the size of CS, I still maintain that municipal politics does require serious full-time management.
I live in a town with 1/20th the population of Colorado Springs, and we have a full time Town Manager and full time Code Administrator. It's in a state whose legislators are paid $100 per year (no, that is not a typo) plus a mileage allowance for their services, though the governor gets a decent wage. You can still have a decently run local government as long as you have a good full-time staff. But it does get harder if you don't pay them adequately.
The $89k/year cost mentioned above, if it is accurately described as per employee, is hardly ridiculous. It includes benefits, the employer's share of Social Security taxes, and most likely some legacy retirement costs. Maybe they could bring it down a bit at the margins, but I don't see any large savings in personnel costs short of cutting large numbers of positions.
I guess we could look at the employees of the guys resort spa and see if there is a defining characteristic they share that allow them to cost, on average $24k for their employer.
I have a reasonable guess and I don't think it would work out well for running a government.
I also have a very cynical guess and I think it would be amusing if it were the case.
Thank goodness for failures like CO Springs and MI. We can easily look at the history and see what let to this problem.
This debate has been full of assertions and light on facts. Lets see the charts and numbers of taxes, spending, and political majorities. Lets see the decisions and the lack of decisions that led to this crisis.
Lets put the blame where it belongs and hold this failure up for everyone to see so we don't repeat it.
The author ignores the fact that problems such as those faced by Colorado Springs are faced by other communities across the nation. Both conservative Arizona and liberal California are closing state parks. New York communities are laying off teachers. The problem is a result of communities and states living beyond their means for generations. Yes, Colorado Springs cuts are deep but AT LEAST THE COMMUNITY IS DEALING WITH THE PROBLEM. If you think that you're enlightened, progressive community is immune, you're going to be surprised. Before this is over (and it's nowhere near over regardless of what the administration says) you're going to be looking at unimaginable cuts at home. This was a poorly written attempt at saying that libertarianism is bad. The author is truly clueless.
To Texas: So tell me what are the so-called progressive areas and "libertarian" areas of the nation doing similarly these days? Cutting budgets. The libertarian solution to everything after all is small gubmint, these "progressives" as you describe them areas are simply doing what Ayn Rand wanted and what Ayn Paul wants. Cutting budgets and implementing austerity. You're the one who is of poor taste here. Instead of taking an OBJECTIVE look at the policies being implemented across the nation and political spectrum you simply use the shallow excuse that yes the libertarian hole is not successful be neither are other areas of the nation also implementing tightening of the budget which is what the libertarians want after all. If the libertarians want small govmmint so bad they're free to move to