Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Our Dark Future

Brian points us to this Pandagon piece on Colorado Springs making drastic cuts in basic services because their residents refuse to pony up the tax money:

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.

Brian suggests this is the future for his home state of Florida:

We've already seen cuts of this nature in Broward County, though not of this magnitude. Yet.

I say yet because I have to believe they're coming. Even if Democrats in Florida get a double winner next year in Kendrick Meek and Alex Sink--far from likely, I'd say--unless there's some massive turnover in the Legislature, we won't see any tax increases or reforms which would increase revenues for municipal services. This legislature has already made clear that they adhere to the Republican dogma that tax and budget cuts are the only tools they are willing to wield when it comes to balancing a budget, and there won't be any Washington stimulus money to bail them out this time.

I'd like to think that these sorts of cuts will wake voters up, once and for all, to the realization that you can't have services if you won't pay taxes, and that paying taxes is, in fact, a patriotic thing to do. I'd like to think that, but I have little faith that people will learn the lesson, because there are too many steps between local park closings and Tallahassee Tea Party rhetorical flourishes. I fear we'll just get more of the same.

I tend to think that this is in fact the future for much of the country. Colorado Springs has been an extreme for decades. One of the New Right's starting points in the 1950s, they along with Orange County, parts of Texas, the Atlanta suburbs, and other defense industry dominated places led the way in opposing taxes, embracing right-wing evangelicalism, and other tenets of modern conservatism. Of course, it's the home to the Air Force Academy, NORAD, Focus on the Family, Saddleback Church, and other leading institutions of the New Right. So maybe they are extreme.

But their anti-tax message has made great headway in America, to the point that almost no one is openly pro-tax anymore. Pro-tax means pro-services. Anti-tax means no street lights, police protection, garbage pickup, schools, and roads, not to mention city and state parks, public swimming pools, and other leisure activities.

The national government is infected with the same disease. Backlash against a growing deficit, caused largely by the anti-tax fever that grips the nation, has forced President Obama to issue a spending freeze that is a) unlikely to work, b) marginalizes domestic spending that would eventually cut the deficit, and c) will hurt Americans' way of life. The biggest problem here is that defense spending isn't included in the freeze. Maybe we could get away with very low taxes and some social services if we didn't devote so much money to the military. Katrina Vanden Heuvel calls for a big reduction in defense spending, which makes tons of sense and absolutely won't happen. The problem is well-graphed right here:

Eventually, I'd like to think the people of Colorado Springs, Miami, and the nation as a whole will come to their senses and realize that taxes protect our way of life. Oregon voters did so last week, approving a tax increase on the rich and businesses which will protect schools and other social services. But I'm skeptical of our future as a functional nation and I fear a day where armed bands of local militia are patrolling our streets because we refuse to pay taxes and at the same time demand an aggressive foreign policy that intervenes in other nation's affairs and spends massive amounts of money of big expensive toys that people think are cool.

PS--Here's the original Denver Post article, which as Elizabeth says in comments, is indeed scary. I love how no one seems to get why this is all happening. When government stops working because it has no money, what's the answer? Less government! Perfect!!!