Intel's recent announcement of its impending purchase of Rockwell's never-opened chip-making plant on Garden of the Gods Road, with the intention of establishing a major manufacturing facility, was, as you might expect, greeted with delighted whinnying by all the eco-devo establishment.
I mean, were talking bigtime here! Intel's one of the 30 stocks in the Dow-Jones Industrial average! How much more world-class can our city get??!!
Well, I guess it's good news, if you want to pretend that it's still 1991, and the area is desperate for jobs, for development, for investment of any kind. But it's 2000, and we're in the middle of a riproaring boom, which is straining the capacity of local governments to provide basic services throughout the region.
It's a familiar litany. The city, hobbled by Douglas Bruce-authored tax limitation and rollback amendments to the city charter that was voter approved back in 1991, has the lowest sales-tax rate of any substantial city in Colorado.
And with a booming economy, the city has often had to refund already-collected taxes to the citizens, because of charter-mandated limits on the year-to-year growth of government revenues. Springs officials claim that we have hundreds of millions in unfunded infrastructure needs (not including Confluence Park's kayak run), and no prospect of paying for them out of existing revenues.
Meanwhile, School District 11, despite passing a substantial bond issue a couple of years back, is so starved for operating funds that they're forced to make deep budget cuts. Everyone may agree that public education would be much improved by higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes, but there's no way that D-11 can afford either.
Over at the county, the sheriff wants a new jail, and more deputies; the courts are absurdly overcrowded. And the hard-nosed belt-tighteners at the Penrose Arena are ready to deep-six the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo unless they cough up some mo' money.
And what about the private sector? In case you hadn't noticed, we are in prosperous times. A rising tide may not lift every boat, but by every conventional measure -- per capita income, unemployment, space occupancy, tax collections -- most of us are doing pretty well. Last I looked, there weren't 2,000 unemployed chipmakers waiting patiently for Intel to come to town and offer them jobs, so it would seem that our local governments would be in position to make sure that Intel, or any relocating company, would at least pay their own way.
That's not the case. From the state on down, every government entity seems to think we're still in a recession, and that policies need to be tailored to the needs of business newcomers to the state. Especially if they're big businesses.
For example, D-11, the city, and the county all offer substantial tax rebates to companies making multi-million dollar investments in capital equipment, a program frankly tailored to benefit large businesses.
And at the state level, since Garden of the God Road is in a so-called 'Enterprise Zone,' Intel will eligible for a nice little assortment of tax breaks from Bill Owens and the boys.
And what, may you ask, is an Enterprise Zone? Why, it's an area that has been designated by the State as 'economically distressed,' and therefore in need of special favors from the taxpayers.
Now doesn't that perfectly describe Garden of the Gods Road? I've always thought of it as our very own South Bronx.
It's easy to hand out tax breaks, and hard to take 'em away. And it goes without saying that city planners will be instructed to fast-track Intel's project. I suspect that it'll breeze right on through the corridors of City Hall without even the formality of a public hearing.
Unlike the hapless Westsider whose recent application to build a new garage was summarily rejected by council, Intel will be slavishly coddled and deferred to every step of the way. I wonder whether legitimate concerns about water use, about pollution and about off-site impacts will ever be raised in any meaningful way.
By all accounts, Intel is an exemplary corporation. Maybe they'd welcome intensive scrutiny, and maybe they'd be more than willing to come here without taking handouts, especially if doing so would significantly weaken the community. But who knows?
Given our strange local inferiority complex, it's doubtful whether Intel, or any other company, will ever be offered the opportunity to move here without sizeable bribes from local government.