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Outsider

The ongoing idiocies

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Consider one of the ongoing idiocies of our fair city: economic development. Do we subsidize it, or not? Folks like the estimable Dave Gardner of Save The Springs will argue that each of us are on the hook for hundreds, even thousands annually, in utility charges that actually are growth subsidies for the development industry.

If it weren't for growth, after all, there'd be no need for bizarrely expensive water projects, or new electricity generation plants, or new wastewater treatment capacity, or new schools, or new roads -- so those that create the growth ought to pay for it. And who might those folks be? Why, new residents and the realtors, builders and developers that so profit from their arrival! So let's just make 'em pay their fair share. Recalculate all the impact and tap fees that ought to be assessed on new construction, and leave the rest of us alone.

The development industry counters by saying that planning for the future doesn't mean that you're subsidizing growth, it just means that you're facing facts. The area always has grown, and prudent planning has to take that into account. And if making sure that we have enough schools, roads and utility capacity to accommodate inevitable growth amounts to a subsidy, it's simply a continuation of longstanding policy.

All of us, practically speaking, are immigrants -- and all of us benefited from the public infrastructure created by those who already were here. Besides, our prosperity always has been linked to growth. Why tax new economic activity so heavily that it'll go somewhere else?

So, who's right? Gardner or the development community? As things stand, there's no way of knowing, because they're occupying different realities, with different sets of facts and premises. There's no common ground.

And why not? Because, although regional governments long have used taxes and fees to support economic development, there's never been any attempt to take a coherent look at all of these actions, and the policies, formal and informal, that underlie them. Nor, more importantly, has there ever been an impartial cost-benefit study of what we've done over the years.

For example, the city has, over the last 25 years, doled out around $40 million to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the promotional arm of the tourism industry. Money well spent, or down a rathole? And let's look at the various urban renewal zones, where city government encourages development by forgoing the tax revenue that development might create. Good idea, or clever scam?

Maybe the city ought to commission a comprehensive study of its own economic development policy. Do we unnecessarily subsidize new construction? Or are we just being prudent and reasonable? Do we have a strategic plan? What are the specific economic and community goals that we're trying to achieve? It'd be just too simple to hire a major national consulting company and let 'em take a careful, objective look at the situation. Such a study wouldn't please either side, but it might help us, the actual taxpayers, figure out what's going on.

Meanwhile, last Sunday's Denver Post ran a wonderfully stupid guest editorial by a Patrick Callan, the president of some pretentiously titled educational think tank in San Jose, Calif. According to Callan, Colorado's future is at risk, so much so that we're likely to see an actual decline in per capita income in 2020. That's because all those overeducated boomers that now create so much prosperity are gonna retire, leaving a poorly educated, largely Hispanic workforce to take their place. Solution: Spend more on education.

I agree: Let's spend more on education. But, c'mon -- the folks who generate today's prosperity largely are immigrants from other states, and that immigration isn't stopping anytime soon.

Finally, a fond and respectful farewell to Ken Curtis, who died the other day, still young at 95. If you never knew Ken, it was your loss. Cheerful, unpretentious and utterly dedicated to his city, Ken spearheaded the community effort that prevented the idiots on the County Commission in the 1970s from tearing down the old County Courthouse (now the Pioneers Museum).

He had a distinguished career in the Army, serving as an aide-de-camp to MacArthur in the Pacific, and retiring as a one-star. His accomplishments were many, his friends legion.

Farewell, Ken.

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

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