As Colorado Springs struggles to jump-start economic development and create jobs, our City Council wants to defund and weaken the only agency charged explicitly with attracting new employers. Council members threaten to snuff out another ember that could ignite an economic bonfire.
The City Council controls proceeds from the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, referred to as "LART." The tax, on rental cars and hotel stays, raises money to promote tourism and economic development. Any confusion regarding the purpose of the funds was cleared up with a 1992 ordinance that specified economic development as a proper use. After all, businesses bring tourists to town. Think Garden of the Gods Trading Post, luxury hotels and restaurants. This list could go on ad infinitum. If ever there were a time to prioritize economic development, it would be now.
The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance is the primary agency charged with assisting economic development in our region. Last year, it applied for a modest $200,000 of the approximately $4 million generated by the LART. The council approved only $70,000. Council members also tried to obstruct the agency's economic development mission by tying up funds contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities. The utility had budgeted $310,000 to fund the agency this year - a whole 0.028 percent of the utility's budget. But the council, acting as the Utilities board, spent seven months quibbling over the small item before knocking it down to $250,000. "Small ball" is too kind a phrase for this type of counterproductive behavior.
More recently, the council told the alliance it would get none of the LART tax. So the agency didn't apply. The council wants funding for economic development to come from the general fund, which is managed mostly by the mayor. The council members want to transform an expense paid by visitors into a burden of the executive branch and local taxpayers. They know the general fund may be short about $6 million in 2015, so the chances of a general fund contribution to the alliance are nil.
At a time when politicians should obsess over fixing the local economy - at a time of massive military budget cuts - the city's legislative branch does all it can to defund the only agency directly responsible for attracting businesses and jobs. Some say a new strategy to focus more on tourism is the reason the council is cutting funding, but the purpose of LART is clear in the 1992 ordinance, and we need a booming tourism business and a thriving economic engine that drives local business and job creation.
The likely motive has no nexus to the welfare of this community. One cannot fathom how defunding an economic development agency makes sense at this juncture. It's not as if we need to slow economic growth. We don't need fewer good jobs.
It's a good bet this has to do with power and control. The City Council used to run this city. It hired and fired and directed the city's executive. Voters changed that after enduring a city manager who considered the interests of taxpayers secondary to those of high-paid city employees. They created an executive branch headed by a local who answers to voters.
Since the voter-approved restructuring of city government, the council has stopped at nothing in a quest for the way things used to be. A few council members take pleasure in tripping up the executive branch. They will also go after any organization, no matter how important that organization is to our community's success, that opposes them on any issue, such as City for Champions. In doing so, they spite the community they were elected to serve.
Colorado Springs needs more economic development. It needs a vibrant business alliance. It needs local politicians to stop playing games and start getting results.