Analyzing the current disconnect in Aspen
November 17, 2012
As I sit here and contemplate a beautiful blue sky and some fresh (much-needed) snow on Ajax, I’m led to wonder about our recent election and its implications. Over numerous cups of coffee and discussions with my fellow citizens, there was one recurring theme. That theme was a simple one: “Enough – enough taxes, enough spending, enough building.”
Most of the people I know here are not newcomers, nor are they young. They’ve worked long and hard, and they want stability for themselves and their families. They wonder if Sandy signals our 1893 and if this level of climate change will affect the ski industry the way the silver devaluation affected the mining industry. They’ve seen a town of empty buildings and know it could happen again.
We have a proposed city budget of $88 million (last I heard at the City Council meeting), and our population, according to the last census, was just more than 6,000. That means $14,666 in spending for each resident of Aspen. More than half of that budget is earmarked for capital projects.
The highest per-capita city budget spending in the U.S. is New York City. Go to http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us to see a proposed budget for 2010 of $47.1 billion. Divide that by the most recent census numbers for Manhattan of 8,244,910, and you get per-capita spending of $5,712. (The projected 2013 NYC budget comes closer to $7,200 per capita.)
New York has public hospitals, public housing, a public city university, free universal pre-kindergarten (25 percent of the proposed budget is for education), right to shelter, rent subsidies, summer jobs for teens, senior centers/meals/subsidies, parks, police, fire department, libraries, public transport, road repair (no worse than ours) their own environmental protection agency (25 percent), etc.
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So what is Aspen getting for more than twice the per-capita expenditure compared to New York? Why has the electorate been asked to endorse more money for the library and the schools? (I would love to see a side-by-side comparison of construction costs of Burlingame to any New York City union-built city housing project.)
I find myself falling back to words from the ’60s: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” – Hubert H. Humphrey
The big difference, in my opinion, is that New York City gets its money from its residents (income tax), and we get our money from visitors (sales tax) and second-home owners (transfer tax). I believe this leads to a deep disconnect. The majority of the money isn’t coming directly from the residents, so we’re not as proactive in overseeing how it’s spent.
Do we live in the community we want? Money is clearly not the problem – it’s will and forethought.