Colorado Springs native and legendary man about town John Hazlehurst has, in no particular order, served on the Springs City Council; run (unsuccessfully) for mayor; toiled as an appraiser of fine art, and long ago, spent years circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat. And that’s not to mention his New York days as an investment banker.
By many accounts, including his own, he truly found his groove as a journalist, chronicling his community with his characteristic wit and charm along with decades of perspective and global context. All his prior experiences in public service and beyond seemed to culminate in his tenure as a newsman and commentator, informing his insights.
Through it all, no one has accused him of being a government-bashing tax cutter. If anything, he is noted for tilting the other way as he tweaks the sensibilities of the staunchly conservative Springs political establishment.
Yet, there was Hazlehurst, touting, of all things, TABOR — yup, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — in a piece he penned not long ago for the Colorado Springs Business Journal. After musing in his inimitable way about buying a victorian mansion he’d seen advertised in far-off Albany, N.Y. — but then noting how he recoiled at its astounding property-tax bill, typical for the region — he observed:
As Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights author Douglas Bruce figured out many years ago, absent external checks, tax rates rise steadily in order to accommodate increased government spending.
Much of that spending is necessary and proper, but it’s interesting to note that there was no city sales tax in 1960. Liberals, moderates and even a few conservatives might complain that TABOR unnecessarily restricts our ability to fund local and state governments, but maybe the Dougster had a point. To the extent that wages, salaries and property values rise in tandem with tax increases, everything is rosy. Public employees get generous pensions, public schools and colleges get funded, and transportation needs are met.
But what happens to high-tax cities when capitalism’s bounty slows? Tax receipts drop, tax rates increase, employment shrinks, crime rises and residents flee.
So when we consider worthy new taxes, be they for stormwater, parks, state transportation, education or anything else, let’s be careful.
Cities, like those who live in them, are mortal. One day we may become the Detroit of the Rockies, undone by military downsizing, climate change, political turmoil or industrial evolution. And high taxes will only hasten the process.
No friend of Doug Bruce, that Hazlehurst. And yet…
It’s a noteworthy take from someone who dwells comfortably to the left of center. It seems he doesn’t mind upending the sensibilities of his own crowd from time to time, either.