The Future is in Our Hands
If someone decided to move to Colorado Springs and read the results of the last election cycle, they would think that we live in a progressive city. By a wide majority, the citizens agreed to raise taxes for storm-water, transportation infrastructure, and education. What happened to open the purses of the notoriously tax averse voters?
Though the city’s website boasts that “Colorado Springs is considered a very low tax area of the country to live,” by now we know that anemic tax collection translates into minimal city services; this situation is untenable. Natural beauty alone cannot sustain us, ensure our safety and comfort, and prepare our youth to be civic-minded residents.
In the name of “national security” we spare no expense, but all other government services are constantly under attack. How should we define the iconic concepts of “national security” and “public safety”? In the neoliberal ideological dictionary, they are commonly defined in terms of military might and police presence, independent institutions whose sanctity is beyond reproach (that are somehow not part of the “government”).
But if we broaden our understanding and leave behind ideologues, we may better appreciate the change we are experiencing. Public safety includes roads and bridges, clean air, drinkable water, and education. Our infrastructure is essential for our safety.
Can police officers get to a crime scene if potholes puncture their tires? Can they function with Martin Drake’s pollution? Aren’t schools a better investment than detention facilities?
With the recent passage of the referenda, perhaps services will improve and with them not only public safety writ large but a better outlook for the city’s future. Extra targeted taxes will not do the trick on their own; we must change our attitudes as well.
Our attitudes are reflected in city policies. The moniker of being regressive and conservative may be changing with the recent votes. Even if we agree that taxes are not necessarily evil, have we indeed become open-minded?
On one level, the answer remains no. Three constituencies still influence our mayor, (city council is more diverse): religious institutions, military bases, and retirees. Is this why we forbid the sale of recreational pot?
The answer depends on three issues: first, in a democracy, we heed the will of the majority; second, increased taxes usually alleviate budgetary crunches; and third, transforming the image of the city.
The answer to the first issue is obvious: ask the citizens what they want to happen in their city. The answer to the second question is also obvious: just look at the budgets of any municipality that has licensed recreational pot sales in the state. The overwhelming data show that additional sales taxes have been useful for funding infrastructure projects as well as K-12 education.
The answer to the third question is a bit trickier, but I’d argue that a progressive image brings about economic prosperity. At the national level, the better the outlook of consumers the more likely they are to spend money, and the more money they spend (about 70% OF GNP), the greater the growth of the economy. (see the reports of the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
If we look at the state, we need only look at Denver and see its exponential growth since the passage of Amendment 64. One can question if there is indeed a causal relation between the legalization of pot consumption and the city’s economic growth or merely a correlation. But what remains clear is that with the legalization of pot, Denver has become a more attractive city than it was two decades ago. Professional sports teams have been there before, the mountains haven’t moved, nor has the weather changed.
What has changed, outside the bounce back from the Great Recession since 2012, is the legalization of pot. Though you can argue that pot alone wasn’t the determining factor, you probably agree that what people perceive and how they feel influence how they make decisions.
If you think that Denver is cool because it lets people smoke pot without becoming criminals in the process, you are likely to believe that the city is quite open-minded, whether in the libertarian sense of leaving you alone (as long as you don’t hurt others) or in the liberal sense that we are happy to be in a friendly community with other happy people. Either way, pot is one of the many reasons for Denver’s appeal.
What is ours? The proximity to the mountains and our bike trails, and… If we replaced the appeal of low taxes with an appeal to an open-minded community, we may attract the kind of young professionals Denver has absorbed in the past decade. Their arrival, with or without the sales tax on pot, will enrich our community.
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com