The Gazette's April 4 story,"SCIP it" on the failure of the proposed sales tax increase, cites worries about the economy and a preference for low taxes vs. quality infrastructure. But there are other explanations for the majority no vote and the many potential voters ambivalent enough about infrastructure vs. taxes to abstain from voting.
Many pro-SCIP messages gave recent population growth as the reason for a tax increase. This implied that growth has raised costs rather than creating benefits. Our tax structure and land use policies must work together so that the costs of growth are matched by an ability to pay. When a backlog of infrastructure needs occurs because of growth, there is a problem in at least one of the policies.
Perhaps our local tax structure doesn't accommodate growth adequately. Business tax rebates have been given to attract high paying jobs to Colorado Springs on the theory that sales and property tax revenues from employees will cover associated costs. But the gap between infrastructure and revenue grew rapidly during the period that this strategy was most successful.
Growth should automatically increase local tax revenues without rate increases. More population means more retail sales as well as more housing and commercial property, thus more property and sales tax dollars. If average incomes rise, revenues should increase even faster. (For more on tax policies and growth issues, see http://www.uccs.edu/ccps.)
Or, perhaps land use patterns have not been cost effective. The costs of drainage systems, utilities, fire and police protection, and other municipal services vary by location and geography. When government is called to "live within its means" this is more than a no frills approach to offices and travel. Approved land use should result in infrastructure that the city can afford to maintain within the tax revenues voters will support.
Dealing with the infrastructure backlog boils down to four options. The first, raising tax rates, was rejected by voters. The second option lets the backlog build. The third option charges more development costs directly to developers, builders and buyers. The fourth limits new development.
As the city leadership grapples with the future of Colorado Springs it must consider various mixes of these options and re-examine both tax structure and land use policies. Only when there is a good fit between growth patterns and revenues can citizens be confident that city policies are structured for their well-being.