Stay the course
The challenges for the Grand Junction City Council and Mesa County commissioners are no different than those local businesses have dealt with during the extended economic downturn we’ve experienced (seemingly with no end in sight).
“We’ve hit bottom,” City Manager Greg Caton said recently while discussing the city’s pared-down $142 million budget.
The truth is, we don’t know where the bottom is until we start climbing out of this hole. Caton’s hope that “it’s not going to get any worse,” may be overly optimistic.
At any rate, both the city and the county are in the same boat. They’re trying to find places to cut — getting as close to the bone as possible without hitting the marrow. This is where government deviates from business. On one hand, the budgetary process incites a necessary “right-sizing,” no matter how painful, of our local government workforce. On the other hand, falling revenues don’t correlate with a reduction in services. We need government to do what it does — plow roads, keep sewer lines flowing, protect the public — no matter how far revenues fall.
There’s a healthy aspect to budget crunches in that they force elected officials to identify priorities. We get a better sense of what our leaders stand for when they have to defend budget cuts. We elect them to make the difficult decisions. Unfortunately poor decisions can put us deeper in the hole.
Preliminary budget discussion have already yielded some clues about funding priorities. Commissioner Rose Pugliese, for example, has already suggested that the county’s contributions to Colorado Mesa University, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and other economic-development groups should not fall under the budget axe.
That’s the right kind of thinking. It’s tempting for elected officials to look at government-funded amenities, like parks, museums, trails, the Avalon Theatre, Las Colonias or the tower at Stocker Stadium as “extras” — things to be funded when local government is flush.
But we’re only flush when energy extraction is booming. For that reason alone, we should step away from any government role in perpetuating this boom-or-bust cycle. The lone exception would be support for Jordan Cove because it has the potential to stabilize an otherwise volatile sector of the economy.
Even in lean times, we should make it a priority to invest in the things that will grow our economy apart from energy. Broadband, outdoor recreation, cultural amenities, parks and trails are the key to attracting young professionals and manufacturers. Millennials want a great place to raise a family and employers want a high quality of life to attract and retain workers.
Taking money from perceived “extras” is eating our seed corn. The way out of the revenue trap is investing in things that will bring non-energy jobs to Grand Junction. Energy booms happen on their own. Let’s prime the pump for the rest of the economy.