ONTD Political

It Would Be Funny If It Wasnt Tragic. God Has a Horrible Sense of Humor.

2:30 am - 07/04/2012
Wildfire Tests Police in Colorado Tax Movement’s Home

As Colorado Springs battles a rash of burglaries after a wildfire that still licks at its boundaries, it does so with fewer police and firefighters.

The city where the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes and forced more than 34,000 residents to evacuate turned off one-third of its streetlights two years ago, halted park maintenance and cut services to close a $28 million budget gap after sales-tax revenue plummeted and voters rejected a property-tax increase.

The municipality, at 416,000 the state’s second-largest, auctioned both its police helicopters and shrank public-safety ranks through attrition by about 8 percent; it has 50 fewer police and 39 fewer firefighters than five years ago. More than 180 National Guard troops have been mobilized to secure the city after the state’s most destructive fire. At least 32 evacuated homes were burglarized and dozens of evacuees’ cars were broken into, said Police Chief Pete Carey.

“It has impacted the response,” said Karin White, a 54- year-old accountant, who returned home June 28 to a looted and vandalized house, with a treasured, century-old family heirloom smashed.

“They did above and beyond what they could do with the resources they had,” she said. “If there were more officers, there could have been more manpower in the evacuated areas.”

Taxpayer Revolt

Since the start of the 18-month recession in December 2007, U.S. cities have faced shrinking revenue and diminishing state support, leading to budget cuts and reductions in services and workforces. Cities faced a fifth-straight year of revenue declines in 2011, according to the National League of Cities, which estimated that municipalities would have to fill budget gaps of as much as $83 billion from 2010-2012.

Colorado Springs, which depends on sales tax for about half of its revenue, was hit harder than most. The city -- the birthplace 20 years ago of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which later passed statewide and has been pushed around the country to restrict government spending -- became a high-profile example of cost-cutting. The law restricts government spending to the previous year’s revenue, adjusted only for population growth and inflation.

“People are going to be looking at the aftermath of this disaster to see what is possible,” said Josh Dunn, an associate professor of political science at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “How far can you go in cutting the size of city government?”


The city, home of the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family, is known for being conservative and libertarian. It “was the Tea Party before the Tea Party was cool,” Dunn said.

Six of the nine candidates in last year’s nonpartisan mayoral election, including the victor, Mayor Steve Bach, signed a pledge to oppose any tax increases.

Richard Skorman, one candidate who didn’t, was flooded with angry e-mails after saying in a debate why he opposed such a pledge. What, he asked, if the city got hit by a major wildfire?

“Resources have been very stretched, and we were always worried,” Skorman, a 60-year-old small business owner and former city councilman who lost to Bach in an April 2011 run- off, said in a telephone interview.

On Edge

The costs of rebuilding combined with lost revenue from business closings and tourism could again push the city to the point where it doesn’t have money for essential services, he said.

“It is really going to make it difficult to deal with these things and all the reconstruction and things that are going to have to occur in this community,” Skorman said.

Bach said the city is on the path toward financial implosion anyway because of overly generous pensions and too many parks.

“Forget the fire,” said the mayor, whose office has an easel with a chart depicting Colorado Springs’s financial status, after a briefing on the blaze June 30. “At our current cost curve, we’ll be insolvent in eight years.”

Bach said the financial situation “certainly has affected our ability to take care of other things like parks and keeping the streetlights on.”

It hasn’t affected the handling of the wildfire, he said.

Heading Home

The Waldo Canyon blaze has killed two, engulfed a 29- square-mile (75-square-kilometer) area the size of Manhattan, has cost $11.1 million to fight so far and is now 55 percent contained. All but 3,000 residents have been allowed to return home, according to the Incident Information System, an interagency effort to track and provide wildfire information.

Such emergencies are why Bach’s administration has focused on increasing the city’s unrestricted general fund balance, which is now at 17 percent, said Steve Cox, the city’s chief of economic vitality and innovation.

Carey and Fire Chief Rich Brown said they are facing the same kind of cuts and budget restrictions as public-safety forces across the country. The reduction in manpower hasn’t affected their ability to respond to the wildfire, they said in interviews this weekend.

On June 26, when near-hurricane force winds caused a firestorm that swept into the city, “I don’t care if we had 2,000 people, there’s nothing we could have done,” Brown said. The city has 413 firefighters and recently graduated its first new class of recruits in five years, he said.

Working Together

Carey said the reduction in manpower has forced police to work more closely with the fire department and other agencies.

“That’s the emerging trend of public safety,” Carey said. “We can’t afford to have a surge capacity, maximum capacity every day for these kinds of situations. You have to think meaner and leaner, and have a plan that includes asking for outside help.”

The city has been aggressive in applying for federal grants, too, which have funded wildfire mitigation efforts, said Bret Waters, emergency management director.

Dunn notes that the city, where there is strong anti- federal government sentiment, is now turning to the U.S. for assistance. Before visiting Colorado on June 29, President Barack Obama declared the state a disaster area, which frees aid for communities affected by the wildfires.

“Ironically, Colorado Springs is going to rely heavily on federal funds for rebuilding,” Dunn said. “But it won’t cover everything.”

kira_snugz 4th-Jul-2012 07:06 pm (UTC)
tabaqui 4th-Jul-2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
Now it begins. People are so nuts about taxes, and the fall out of 'no taxes ever, of any kind' is happening now. It really sucks, and I really feel bad for the people in Colorado - maybe their govt. will get their heads out of their asses and try to be smarter about this, now.
kitanabychoice 4th-Jul-2012 04:29 pm (UTC)
This is terrible, but I hope the crowd vehemently screaming about lowering or having no taxes will finally understand why taxes are a necessary burden.
thecityofdis 4th-Jul-2012 04:58 pm (UTC)
If wishes were horses...
erunamiryene 4th-Jul-2012 05:12 pm (UTC)
Karma's a bitch. Sucks for the people who weren't fucking losing their minds about taxes, but I'm 100% confident that the NO TAXES EVER BECAUSE EVERYTHING SHOULD BE FREE BECAUSE TAXES ARE TYRANNY crowd (who are probably the same group rolling around with FREEDOM AIN'T FREE stickers on their cars) won't learn their lesson.

Bach said the city is on the path toward financial implosion anyway because of overly generous pensions and too many parks.

Oh jesus fuck are you serious? Yeah, your city is on the way to financial ruin because of PENSIONS AND PARKS, not the fact that YOU DON'T COLLECT ANY FUCKING REVENUE.
thelilyqueen 4th-Jul-2012 05:26 pm (UTC)
Srsly. I don't claim to be an expert in economics but I consider myself pretty well informed about personal finances. There are two things a person needs to do if they want to maximize their financial well-being - cut truly wasteful spending *and* find ways to raise their income. There's only so much that can be cut from any budget without losing the ability to maintain a decent standard of living and not set oneself up for big issues long term by postponing needed health care, etc.
moonbladem 4th-Jul-2012 05:40 pm (UTC)
The GOP have Grover Norquist to thank when all of this 'No Taxes' bullshit implodes around them.

Exactly where do people think the money to repair roads and bridges, educate our kids, pay our firefighters, policemen, teachers etc come from... the thin air? Taxes aren't just for shit and giggles, they serve a function, whether we like it or not.

And no, the middle class should not be the only ones shouldering the tax burden. Rich people should pay their fair share too, no more tax cuts for the rich. It's disgusting how much the GOP kisses rich ass and ends up selling the rest of us out.
romp 4th-Jul-2012 05:41 pm (UTC)
Don't we have a schadenfreude tag?

I wish the fire would burn only the houses of those who fell for the TAX FREEDOM bullshit but I also know that people tend to only see the light when they're personally affected. Maybe this will at least affect enough family and friends that the fans of No Taxes clue in to the importance of communal services. :/
furrygreen 4th-Jul-2012 05:56 pm (UTC)
“Ironically, Colorado Springs is going to rely heavily on federal funds for rebuilding,” Dunn said. “But it won’t cover everything.”

Isn't this always the case though? They're like grown children: they don't talk to you until they need your money.

I read a fascinating article about the pro-life women who picket abortion clinics. The doctor was saying how bizarre it was to see those same women begging for not only an abortion but to have it kept hush-hush. Not only that, but to see those same women back outside their clinic in a couple days protesting it.
antique_faery 4th-Jul-2012 06:00 pm (UTC)
It's very true. Or perhaps they just don't *get* where the money comes from to provide federal aid. Hmm. Perhaps the taxes they cry about paying? Wait, it doesn't magically grow on trees or appear out of thin air when we need it???? D:

Gross and embarrassing on those women's part. I wouldn't know what to think if I were that doctor besides the fact that they are just sad.
tilmon 4th-Jul-2012 06:06 pm (UTC)

Edited at 2012-07-04 06:07 pm (UTC)
kaisenji 5th-Jul-2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
As a chicken owner, I chucked at this. :)
ragnor144 4th-Jul-2012 06:31 pm (UTC)
They will take that federal money like the welfare queens they accuse "tax and spend" Democrats of being.
corinn 4th-Jul-2012 08:04 pm (UTC)
I have been thinking "Suuure, we don't need more firefighters!" ever since the fire broke out. "We can afford to cut firefighters" as an attitude in the Southwest especially is ridiculous and demonstrates a huge lack of situational awareness. I'm from SoCal and have lived through enough fire seasons (I'm sorry, "summers/autumns") that "let's cut firefighters!" makes me go DDDDDDD8 Good on Skorman for recognizing the danger. The consequences of cutting cops is the icing on the fail cake.

Which costs more? Your yearly taxes, or replacing everything you own when your house burns down?

The city, home of the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family, is known for being conservative and libertarian. It “was the Tea Party before the Tea Party was cool,” Dunn said.
So the city and/or Focus on the Family are hipsters?

Dunn notes that the city, where there is strong anti- federal government sentiment, is now turning to the U.S. for assistance.
I predict at least one fundamental Christian will preach that the fire is God testing their will to resist the temptation of ceding their FREEDOMS to the gubmint to make life somewhat less awful.
furrygreen 4th-Jul-2012 09:07 pm (UTC)
Your yearly taxes, or replacing everything you own when your house burns down?

Ah, but this is why you get homeowners/apartment insurance! You're doing your part of the economy. Don't you feel better?

And, naturally, the insurance companies are going to complain (because, you know, providing monies to those policy holders really sucks) and they'll say "in this economy!" and the President will nod and give tax dollars to both (but mostly the insurance companies) while allowing said companies the go-ahead to not cover their policies.

That'll mean three things; the taxpayers will have to shell out, the companies will get even richer, and the poor homeowners will be screwed three way (via taxes, the existing policy premiums, and having to cover the rest out of pocket.)

The circle of life. It's it beautiful?
pleasure_past 4th-Jul-2012 10:18 pm (UTC)
God doesn't actually have a horrible sense of humor, though. This isn't some divine joke. This is the logical consequence that anyone and everyone could and should have seen coming. What, did all of these people just move to Colorado Springs last October? When Skorman asked what the city would do if it got hit by a wildfire, what he really meant to ask was what the city would do when it got hit by a wildfire, because this isn't some out-of-the-blue tragedy. (It most definitely is a tragedy, but it's not an out-of-the-blue one.) There are wildfires in that area of Colorado nearly every summer. This entire state is constantly on the defense for wildfires from the first day of June to the last day of August. That's why we haven't been able to have fireworks since my parents were children. If Tokyo stopped budgeting for earthquake damage control and then got hit by an earthquake, we wouldn't call it God's sick sense of humor, we'd call it an unforgivable oversight on the part of the officials responsible and their supporters. My heart goes out to the victims of the fire, but holy shit, this isn't bad luck, this is just straight-up negligence.

Edited at 2012-07-04 10:19 pm (UTC)
antique_faery 5th-Jul-2012 03:02 am (UTC)
Very much this!
sesmo 5th-Jul-2012 08:10 am (UTC)
Here's the aggravating part. These guys will (1) take the federal money, (2) not increase their own fire fighter funding, and (3) bitch about the federal government spending too much and taxing too much. Betcha they won't budge an inch. I sometimes wish that we could have a little "fuck this guy" tag for people who take the benefits of federal funds, and then bitch about the "burdensome" taxation going on.
antique_faery 5th-Jul-2012 08:27 pm (UTC)
Yep. This is all true--especially for the Springs in my observance--and it's sickening.
celtic_thistle 5th-Jul-2012 06:50 pm (UTC)
As soon as I heard the fire was headed towards CO Springs I wondered how they'd deal with their tax-free haven suddenly needing services paid for by taxes.
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