When "sucking it up" is mostly hot air
By Susan Greene
Denver Post Columnist
I TRY overlooking the "Ronald Reagan Highway" sign on the way into
I try to ignore the Focus on the Family feel and to forget that, on my
first time in this city — alone with my cat on a trip across the
country — I was questioned in my motel on suspicion of prostitution.
Instead, I try focusing on its up sides, like the mountain vistas and
But now Colorado Springs has gone and outdone itself.
Despite a budget crisis that has forced them to cut 530 municipal
positions, city officials, as a matter of conservative principle, plan
to turn down $42 million in jobs assistance.
Mayor Lionel Rivera and a City Council majority are opposing the Local
Jobs for America Act, a bill to put people to work and restore
municipal services slashed since the economy crashed. It would borrow
$75 billion over two years with the aim of pulling cities out of the
The National League of Cities asked locals to support the bill.
Instead, Rivera and six council members denounced it last week because
it would put the country further into debt.
"We're having to suck it up. The federal government should too," the mayor says.
Sucking it up, Colorado Springs- style, means no more bus service on
nights and weekends. It means vast expanses of city parks untended,
their restrooms closed and trash cans removed as part of cost-cutting.
Sucking it up means paying extra to use city pools that are now run
for profit. It means city rec centers being taken over by church
For Judd Hess, unable to find construction work for 16 months, sucking
it up entails crashing on friends' couches for the night or huddling
under trees in his sleeping bag.
"Cutting grass. Picking up trash. Anything. Just give me work and I'm
gold," he says.
Yet as Rivera sees it, "It doesn't seem right for the federal
government to borrow money and send it to us. It's just not
sustainable. . . . Somebody has to step forward and say no."
Aren't some jobs, for the short-term, better than no jobs at all, I
asked? In other words: Why not take the cash, every cent of it, and
hire people, fast?
No can do, he answered, telling me that if you give a man a fish,
you've fed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you've fed
him for a lifetime. I didn't see the connection, exactly, but figured
he wasn't budging on the jobs bill.
So I asked if he'd please consider passing his city's share instead,
say, to Denver.
"That kind of thinking — it's part of the problem," he said. "We all
have to live within our means."
I have kids, and maybe someday, grandkids, and am as concerned about
the national debt as the next Coloradan. There are all kinds of
theories on how to end deficit spending. My antipathy for Rivera's
city doesn't in itself blind me to his point.
But he's not a congressman or talk-radio pundit, at least for now. As
mayor, his job is neither to influence Washington nor to undercut his
city. Thumbing his nose at federal assistance seems to abdicate his
responsibilities to the Judd Hesses of his community and others who
are down and out, living in tent colonies, arguably not because they
"Some people want a homeless life," counters Rivera, a financial
adviser. "Some people, they really do."
And there you have it, at least from this admittedly biased columnist,
on the sorry state of things in Colorado Springs.