Pot Holes Are Wake-Up Call for Republican Mayor of Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers sounded the alarm Thursday in his state of the city speech:

Suthers: "When companies are looking around, they're looking for the level of investment the community is making for infrastructure, and we need to show them that investment."

When you hear something like that, and you've had enough of the potholes in your town, you think "tax increase." For the Rich.

But I wasn't sure the phrase existed in right-wing Colorado Springs, despite the pot holes that are proliferating due to the lack of tax money to fix them.

Yet Suthers, a conservative Republican, is calling for a sales tax to repair streets, and more significantly, he's backing a ballot initiative allowing the city to keep funds that otherwise would be returned to taxpayers under TABOR, a Colorado law requiring tax dollars to be refunded, in specific circumstances, even if the roads are falling apart.

On KVOR radio last weekend, here's how Suthers explained his support for the TABOR ballot initiative:

Suthers: Now, as to the issue that is on the ballot, let me explain what that is. In 2014, the city, as total revenue, took in $2.1 million more than it was allowed to take in under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights--the cap. Well, how did that happen? It happened because in 2014 the city got a number of state grants to deal with fire and flood disasters that occurred in the previous couple of years. And that revenue has to be counted against your TABOR cap. And that --those grants -- took us over the TABOR cap for 2014. So the question is: Do we refund it to the voters at approximately $11 per household, or do we retain it? Listen here to Suthers on KVOR 9.9.15.

Sounds a lot like Colorado's Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Hick has been pushing a bill stipulating that Medicaid matching grants and related "hospital provider" fees not be counted under the TABOR cap, a move that would free up over $150 million for transportation and other projects.

More broadly, Suthers is inching closer to some Democrats, like State Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, who argued this year that an expected TABOR refund should go to cash-strapped public education. With Colorado's economy improving, taxpayers will likely get their first TABOR refund since 2005, even as a calamitous state budget crisis looms and the roads and schools crumble.

The Denver Post's libertarian/conservative editorial-page editor, Vincent Carroll, spotlighted the "bleak" budget situation in a recent column.

Suthers wants to keep taxes for stuff people want, like trails and parks. He's touting a poll showing he's got the support of the people--if some conservative allies are pissed.

Like the Republicans who backed moderate TABOR reform in 2005, Suthers is showing, however faintly, that extreme anti-tax ideology doesn't work when you have to govern.

Maybe it's a sign that our state's tax crisis can actually be solved through a combination of compromise and necessity.