(Denver Post, Dec. 27) Remember those times when we thought the world had changed, but it hadn’t? Eight years ago after jihadists attacked the US homeland, and again last year after America elected its first black president, the talk of “forever different” was soon quieted by life’s old patterns. The world does not change, because human nature does not.
But an event that did change the world occurred 2000 years ago in the stable at Bethlehem. Religious differences aside, the earthquake of Jesus’ coming is historical fact. The idea of all persons created equal, all endowed with dignity and liberty, arrived with him and has gained steadily ever since. This makes our seasonal celebrations, both sacred and secular, most fitting.
Among them is the parlor game of tallying up who made a difference in the old year, amid the gusts of forgettable news and fleeting celebrity. In 2009 the very word “change” devolved from a mantra into a punchline. Yet certain individuals had an impact that deserves recognition as the calendar turns. Editors at Time and Sports Illustrated have crowned their national honorees. On behalf of Rocky Mountain conservatives, here’s my award for Coloradan of the Year.
Who would you choose? And by what yardstick would you decide? I took as jurors Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Grant, spiritual fathers under whose wise and brave influence our state was born. We looked for distinguished contributions by fellow citizens in keeping Colorado true to its heritage. The field was broad and bipartisan.
This was the year that Mike Coffman, Iraq veteran twice over, took his war-fighting savvy to Congress. Ken Salazar, son of the San Luis Valley, became steward of all the nation’s public lands. Douglas Bruce left public office but remained a potent force for limited government through his TABOR legacy. Peter Groff, descendant of slaves, took charge of faith-based programs for schoolkids across the country.
None of them, however, made our top-10 finalists. Nor did Jim Tracy, the managerial wizard who electrified Rockies fans, or Michael Bennet, the education wizard who vaulted into the Senate. Nor did leftist campaign financier Tim Gill or Islamist plotter Najibullah Zazi – though jurors sent them backhanded thanks for puncturing the complacency of many.
As finalists for 2009, the jury salutes Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute, laughing lancer of liberty; Joe Blake of Colorado State, common-sense businessman turned university president; and Mayor Hickenlooper along with Congressman Salazar, two solid Johns who remind us not all Democrats are loony liberals.
Plus Philip Anschutz, philanthropist, media mogul, and rising GOP rainmaker; Vincent Carroll, senior pundit of the right at the old Rocky and now here at the Post; Dick Wadhams, quarterback of the state’s impending Republican revival; James Dobson, radio hall-of-famer and hero of the American family; and Jane Norton, new voice of women conservatives in the West.
But last and loudest, as Coloradan of the Year, we applaud Archbishop Charles Chaput. He did the state proud as a leading signer of the Manhattan Declaration on sanctity of life, dignity of marriage, and defense of religious liberty. His book “Render unto Caesar” is a timely guide to principled citizenship in a nation under God. Four centuries of Americans who pushed westward from the Old World’s exhaustion to the New World’s promise would recognize in Chaput a friend to their souls.
I’m not a Catholic, and some of my ghostly jurors were but hesitant Christians; yet no matter. The good archbishop models self-government and self-giving for Coloradans of all faiths. Tempted to believe we live by bread and circuses rather than by truth and love, our state is continually reminded otherwise by this fearless prelate. Soldier of civilization, man of backbone, Charles Chaput will live in grateful memory many Christmases from now.
There is a consensus that the desperate plight of higher education finances in Colorado calls not for tinkering around the edges but a radical re-examination of basic premises. The traditional solution of “Give Them More Money” is simply not an option given the perilous condition of the state and national economy. One proposal under consideration is the creation of more three-year bachelor’s programs as a means of achieving significant savings for students, parents, colleges, and taxpayers. Before opining on the virtues of this idea it would useful to reflect on where the notion of a “four year degree” came from and also what usages are found in other nations. In 1636 when the Massachusetts Bay Colony established Harvard as America’s first college they naturally looked to Oxford and Cambridge as models, and at that time both institutions viewed four years as a general norm for acquiring a bachelor’s degree. So, Harvard followed suit as did William and Mary (1696), Yale (1702), and subsequently virtually every American institution offering a Bachelor’s Degree. Then in the 17th century the British Parliament- experiencing a “budget gap” – directed Oxford and Cambridge to redesign their bachelor’s programs so that they could be successfully delivered in three years instead of four. Despite some protests they complied and created a highly credible three year bachelor’s program that has served their nation very well ever since. On this latter point I can offer some personal testimony. Following my “four year American degree”,I was a graduate student at Oxford, and the University of London. Any illusion I had that my “extra year” gave me an edge quickly proved unfounded. My relative deficiencies in speaking and writing the Queen’s English and my comparatively shallow store of general knowledge proved conclusively that while I had a longer undergraduate education, my English peers usually had better ones; Ever since I have found the important issue of educational quantity vs. quality to be riveting. Had the United States at least held the line at four years the current financial crisis would not be quite so dire, however as recently reported by Newsweek magazine, the average time of completion for a bachelor’s degree has ballooned to an astounding six years and seven months. For an in-state student at the University of Colorado spending $20,000 annually the difference between four and six and a half years amounts to around $50,000 not to mention the many thousands more that the state must pay in additional higher education subsidies. So, what explains this dramatic expansion of completion time. The reasons are as varied as the students themselves but those most frequently cited are unavailability of required courses, fewer students taking a demanding course load each year, and the attractiveness of the non-academic aspects of college life. The main reason is that higher education authorities allowed it to happen because it greatly increased their revenues and opportunities for discretionary spending. Many years ago a President of Oberlin College- Frederick Jackson Starr- in a much noted speech to college administrators stated that compelling reasons of equity and economics required that U.S. institutions should emulate the rest of the English speaking world and many other countries by making a quality three year bachelor’s program widely available. His peers generally viewed this as heresy and the criticism that descended upon Starr was immense. Similar voices subsequently fell silent. There is no question that the much feared revenue reductions entailed by three year programs could be matched by proportional reductions in expenditures presuming capable management prepared to make decisive choices. Clearly a three year degree is not for most students- for some four years remains a stretch- but simple equity demands that an approach that has long been a successful norm in other countries should at the very least be an option at all institutions offering the bachelor’s program. Today when spiraling higher education costs are breaking the financial backs of many middle class families, and slamming the door outright on countless poor and minority students the existence of a three year option could be the difference in getting or not getting that degree which is an increasingly vital passport to a better 21st century future.
Centennial Fellow William Moloney was Colorado Education Commissioner from 1997 to 2007. His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, and the Washington Post.
"76 Contributor) As one of the many transplants who have moved from Texas to Colorado, I’ve picked up on several interesting differences between the sports scenes in Houston and Denver.
Denver is one of the most unique sports cities in the country with an eclectic mix of competition for fans to take in.
Obviously there are the big four with the Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets and the Avalanche, but there is so much more. From Major League and Arena soccer to Arena and Australian Rules Football. There are even two professional lacrosse teams in town, not to mention the array of high school and college sports.
In Texas it is no secret that football is king, from high school all the way to the NFL. But while support for the Texans has continued to grow through the years, Houston is light years behind Denver when it comes to supporting an NFL franchise.
High School football is another matter. While it has increased in popularity in Denver, the entire state of Texas is infatuated with that level of football, and the majority of the State champions at the top levels over the last decade have come from the Houston area.
Prep baseball in Houston is far superior to that in Denver, with a laundry list of top MLB players originating from Houston. Meanwhile the biggest MLB player from the Denver area at the moment would probably be Brad Lidge.
Of course that’s not a surprise considering the climate here and how difficult it is to play baseball in cold weather. Anyone who has ever caught a 90 MPH fastball in sub-50 degree temperatures or hit a ball off the end of the bat would agree.
I guess the most obvious difference between the two cities when it comes to sports is the variety. While Houston has the Rockets and the Houston Dynamo, which has won the MLS championship, it is dominated by football and baseball from the professional ranks down to high school.
Denver provides more options which sports fans clearly enjoy, and while the Broncos obviously reign supreme, fans relish the opportunity to take in the plethora of athletic competition the city provides.
Austin Corder has covered sports for the Amarillo Globe and San Antonio Express as well as his hometown Houston Chronicle. He now lives in Genessee, equidistant between Invesco Field and the ski areas.
('76 Contributor) According to a Denver Post story on Nov. 22, “The reduced stimulus money means that the general fund appropriation for higher education will have to increase to $555 million, the same amount the state provided in 2005-06 and the point below which the state can’t cut funding and still receive stimulus funds.” Which should remind us of some pithy phrases reflecting the common sense that the American people have learned from experience—not books in gilded classrooms at expensive public colleges and universities.
“It’s time to face the music,” is one of those phrases as is “Fish or cut bait” meaning “are you going just to sit there or are you going to start fishing?” Another favorite is “A stitch in time saves nine,” which I attribute to Ben Franklin’s Almanac. A Google search reveals that the originator of that phrase was first recorded in Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British, 1732. Another favorite of mine is “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
I could come up with more of these phrases, but it IS time to face the music. Colorado higher education is poorly organized, too expensive for its own good, outfitted with accouterments we can’t afford and costing more—not less—every year. Raising donations for a state-run institution goes only so far to close the budget gap. And raising tuition—even if only for wealthy out of state students—defeats the purpose of a “public” education. A “public” education should provide an education at costs the general public—meaning the lower middle class and the poorest—can afford. So something has to be done to reduce operating costs.
What can be done? In essays published at the Yorktown Patriot and in private communication with at least two presidents of state universities in Colorado and numerous members of the Colorado state legislature, I have argued that Colorado higher education needs a workout and radical reforms, as follows:
1. Start by commissioning a Core Curriculum of general education for credit college level courses delivered via the Internet at cost to Junior and Senior high school students. Enable them to earn up to two years of college credits while in high school and give them preferred admission to any four year public college or university in Colorado.
2. Four years in to this effort when the first high school students who earn college credits online begin to arrive as full Sophomores, close admissions at four year colleges to new Freshmen and begin to grow our four year colleges into Senior colleges. In fifteen years, every four year college will only offer Junior and Senior level courses.
3. Place all Faculty on a two tier compensation program. Lower compensation for those with tenure and lesser compensation for the non-tenured. Grant no more tenure.
4. Place all Faculty on term contracts with Bench Marks at 3, 5, 10 and 15 years that must be met if their contracts are renewed.
5. Commence annual outcome based audits that evaluate which programs are self-supporting and which programs exist at the sufferance of taxpayers or are supported by other programs or research grants rather than tuition. Shut down those programs not deemed absolutely necessary for a college education.
6. Apply the principle “every boat on its own bottom” to the graduate divisions of all postgraduate institutions. If a program cannot manage and support itself, shut it down. Those that can support themselves should be free to manage their own programs without central administration interference, but each will contribute 60% of its income to the general fund.
7. Make a public commitment, call it the “Education Contract for Colorado,” to lower tuition costs at public institutions by 5% annually for the next fifteen years.
These steps will enable Colorado to provide a college education for every citizen qualified for college level work. Though these steps will radically change the face of Colorado higher education, remember that there are an equal number of non-public institutions licensed to operate in Colorado. They will be challenged to meet market demand for football, cheerleading squads, basketball teams, climbing walls, gourmet food courts and provide those niceties to those willing to pay for them. All the others will hunker down and start lowering their tuition costs in order to compete with the state university system. Many more Internet programs will become available and Colorado’s very good Liberal Arts colleges will continue to offer a superb classical education to those who want an education as opposed to a degree.
Here’s the bottom line: Colorado’s public education costs are out of control, the leadership of state colleges and universities and their Faculty are living in the past, and Coloradans have no more money to support the costly and unnecessary ways that Colorado state colleges and universities do business. It’s time to face the music.
Richard J. Bishirjian, Ph.D. is President of Yorktown University, an online, for-profit institution of higher education, on whose Yorktown Patriot blog this article first appeared.
('76 Editor) When Scott McInnis, Josh Penry, and Dan Maes faced an audience of almost 300 at Centennial Institute's forum for gubernatorial candidates on Nov. 3, the outpouring of written questions from the floor added up to a comprehensive examination of the rivals' readiness to lead Colorado if elected in 2010. Since our panel was only able to ask a few of the questions that night, we've compiled all of them here for your reference. The order is random, and there has been no editing to avoid repetition or overlap on some topics -- since that serves to illustrate concentrated areas of concern among those who attended. Panelists' questions are listed separately at the end.
1. Colorado public schools are underachieving, despite huge increases in funding. What do you believe are the primary purposes of public education? Social? Intellectual? In preparation for work as entrepreneurs, employees, and employers? How can Colorado do this better?
2. Congressman McInnis, you say now that you are, and have been, pro-life. Yet in 1992 while running for Congress, you said that you were pro-choice and would remain pro-choice. Which are you really, and how can we know that?
3. Do you know the case of Rifqua Bari of Ohio? If the courts return her to her Muslim family, does that put her under Sharia Law? And at risk of beating, deportment, and still possible future death? Would you make a similar case, of a Muslim youth becoming a Christian, or other faith, a ward of the state to protect them? What is your position on school vouchers?
4. What will you do to defend TABOR?
5. What is your position on the I-70 light rail?
6. What is your view of the proposed personhood amendment declaring a fetus a human being from conception.
7. Colorado voted for marriage to be defined as one man and one woman, but I believe we’re paying state employee benefits for homosexual couples, what is your opinion on that?
8. Would you be willing to work (or sign, if the opportunity is given) to repeal the “bathroom” bill – men can use women’s’ bathrooms and vice versa?
9. What is your position on illegal immigration?
10. How do you plan to fix P.E.R.A.?
11. You speak of values, hard work, and integrity. Have you been to the projects (low-income housing) to see the people who are struggling daily? In layman’s terms, how would you explain your agenda?
12. How do you plan to balance environmental awareness with the exploitation of natural resources in Colorado in order to be a good steward of resources as well as provide jobs?
13. How would you rate your knowledge and comprehension of the state budgets in the last two years?
14. How much comprehension of the budget does the next governor need?
15. Do you prepare your own tax return?
16. What is the starting income number on Colorado personal return? How does it relate to a U.S. 1040?
17. Alternative energy is not yet reliable (wind and solar versus nuclear). If Colorado is supposed to be leading the nation in new ideas while providing jobs, how does that work if alternative energy can’t pay for itself?
18. How would you try to correct the damage that has been done by the Ritter administration to the natural gas industry?
19. What is your number one suggestion for how to raise Colorado revenues?
20. How do you believe the legalization of marijuana would benefit and/or harm Colorado?
21. Please summarize what caused the fiscal problems with P.E.R.A., and what the governor and legislature should do to solve the problem?
22. As governor, what would your standpoint on the nation of Israel and America’s support of her be?
23. Is state government currently in a financial crisis or is this simply an expected ratcheting down of government because of TABOR?
24. As governor how would you create new jobs? Please be specific.
25. Transportation statewide is in dire straights. How do you plan on gaining the funding necessary to fix the problem?
26. What is your position on the expansion of Fort Carson?
27. In this era of global economy, what would you do to prepare Colorado businesses to compete in the borderless business between countries? –
28. As governor, what will you do to further America’s fight against Islamic terrorism?
29. How many jobs as Gov. Ritter brought to Colorado with his green energy policy? How many jobs has he lost in the in the oil and gas industry?
30. It will take a solidified effort to win our state and country back. Can each of you get behind one candidate if that is what it takes?
31. This is an open question to any one of you who thinks he can answer it. Can you recite the preamble to the Colorado State Constitution?
32. As governor, what would you do to solve the illegal immigration problem in Colorado?
33. As a voter, I have lost faith in our government. Fiscal responsibility has been abandoned and our founding heritage and future have been compromised. If elected governor, what would you do to restore my faith in government?
34. How would you fix TABOR?
35. Gov. Owens cancelled funding for Planned Parenthood. Gov. Ritter restored that funding. Will you again cut off funds for this pro-abortion organization?
36. Would you support state condemnation for transportation or water projects?
37. Why did Republicans in the past Congress go the wrong direction when we had the majority?
38. What is your message to young people – tomorrow’s leaders – that will compel them to embrace conservative values?
39. The oil companies have worked behind the scenes to prevent us from becoming more energy independent. How are you going to make Colorado more independent and keep the oil companies from derailing this effort?
40. In this tough economy, all parts of state government are having to cut. However, Amendment 23 allows public schools to take more and more. Is there a way to rectify that situation and more evenly balance our funding?
41. Please describe your feelings on the 2nd Amendment.
42. Do you support the three grassroots taxpayer rights initiatives supported by Doug Bruce to control the size of government and repeal fees?
43. Some Republicans are saying it’s inconsistent for the front runner in this race, Scott McInnis, to plead party unity as a reason for avoiding head to head debates, when he himself damaged party unity by criticizing Bob Beauprez’s campaign in 2006 and the Bob Schaffer campaign in 2008. Please ask each candidate to comment. 44. Tonight, we’re finding out in Virginia, and New Jersey, in New York and Maine, what it means to be a Republican and a conservative, including being a social conservative: on issues of life and marriage and justices, and on issues that affect the family. Why is it that none of you seem wiling to talk about social conservative issues in your campaigns? Does that leg of the Reagan conservative triad not matter any more?
Prepared Questions by Student Panelist Chad Ryder:
A. One of the core values of this university is compassion for the poor. Another is limited government and free markets. Many Democrats would say those values are incompatible, and they would charge Republicans with having little compassion for the poor. How would you respond to that charge, and what would you do about it as governor?
B. In the recent past, with such scandals as Gov. Spitzer in New York and Gov. Sanford in South Carolina, the American people have witnessed the effects that poor self-management and skewed personal-values can have on a politician’s career. What are three core-values you uphold in your personal life that will assure you success in your political career?
C. During the 2006 election, the Republican Party lost the race for governor, partially because the tensions during the Republican primaries damaged the party unity in the general election. What practical measures are you taking to make sure the Republican Party does not repeat the same mistakes of the 2006 election?
Prepared Questions by Student Panelist Samantha Scoggins:
A. After talking with college students, I have found that many people my age are concerned that there will not be jobs for them after graduation.According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms and employ 64 percent of all private sector employees. In the current economic climate, small businesses seem to be suffering more than large firms. How do you plan to bolster small businesses and create small business growth in Colorado? B. Many college age students find themselves unable to reasonably pay for college. Many take out large amounts of student loans that they spend years trying to repay. Due to the current economic downturn, most students find it harder to pay for college than in the past. How do you intend to make higher education affordable for students in light of the current economy?
Prepared Questions by Moderator John Andrews:
A. Before coming to the issues of 2010, the Centennial Institute invites each of you to fill out a job application. Tell us specifically what preparation and qualifications you have that the other two Republicans and the incumbent Democrat do not have, making you the best choice to be our next governor. Each of you is at a disadvantage for not having won the Nobel Peace Prize. But you also each have some advantage over the others. Please spell out what that is.
B. With tax revenues falling short in the current recession, Gov. Bill Ritter has relied heavily on onetime federal stimulus money to meet a $271 million deficit in this year’s budget. Do you agree with that approach?
C. The terrorist plot involving Najibullah Zazi of Aurora is one of seven such cases involving radical Muslims in all parts of the country during the past few weeks. Gov. Ritter has called for greater vigilance against the threat of homegrown jihad. What would you do as governor to protect Colorado against Islamic extremism?
('76 Editor) Before Tuesday, only one loss had ever marred Barack Obama’s smooth ascent to greatness. From the Harvard Law Review to the Illinois Senate to the United States Senate to the White House, the charmed young leader rose unstoppably. The lone speed bump was his congressional primary defeat in 2000.
Then came the shellacking of 2009. Governorships in two key states flipped from Democrat to Republican despite the president’s best efforts. Virginia and New Jersey were both solidly blue a year ago. But recession-weary voters proved to be a stingier prize jury than the leftists of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
So much for water-walking on the Potomac. Meanwhile on the Platte, how did these elections treat Bill Ritter? Our beleaguered governor was not on the ballot. But he is under more pressure than Obama, with a budget to balance, no health-care razzle dazzle at hand, and one year left in his term. While clues for the next election from Tuesday’s results were slight, they held little comfort for Ritter.
Maine’s spending lobby may have succeeded in defeating a TABOR-style requirement for voter approval of taxes, with teacher unions doing a $1.8 million ad blitz of lies about Colorado. Former Gov. Bill Owens and former education commissioner Bill Moloney responded as a truth squad, but the dark side won.
At home in Aurora, however, sensible citizens turned down a tax hike for libraries, of all things. Not even motherhood and apple pie could move the tapped-out taxpayers. It’s a sign that Ritter and his government pals will face a tough sell for any “revenue enhancements” in 2010, or for an outright repeal of TABOR in 2011, if he’s still around. No wonder he prefers a flimsy fix for the budget shortfall with federal stimulus dollars.
This governor’s entire persona has morphed from flinty to flimsy since 2006. It’s harder and harder to take him seriously. He has a gravitas gap. His blunders with labor-management issues have made the statehouse “feel like Detroit,” said Republican challenger Josh Penry at a candidate forum the other night. Team Ritter can’t keep their story straight about the Villafuerte scandal, job creation data, or his own hiring record.
Nor was union political muscle, so helpful in Bill Ritter’s victory three years ago (along with “lawbreaker” slurs against opponent Bob Beauprez), fearsome this time out. Teacher-union candidates did tip the Denver School Board their way on Tuesday. But a reform slate defeated four union-endorsed candidates for Douglas County Schools, and conservative Laura Boggs unseated a liberal incumbent in Jeffco Schools.
Last week’s local election results also hinted of a GOP that is regaining its ground game. My party pushed back against the stealth Democratic efforts in those nominally nonpartisan municipal and school board races. Arapahoe Republican Chairman Dave Kerber helped elect Marsha Berzins to the Aurora Council and Ron Phelps to the Centennial Council. Douglas Republican Chairman John Ranson courageously put money and muscle into his county’s board of education fight.
Hearing that some paper had published his obituary, Mark Twain played it for laughs. Republicans at that forum for governor hopefuls (held Nov. 3 at the Centennial Institute) had a laughing optimism seldom seen since 2004. Senate Minority Leader Penry, former Congressman Scott McInnis, and businessman Dan Maes are campaigning as if they missed the memo that this is now a one-party state. And attitude counts for a lot; ask the Broncos and Coach McDaniels.
Twelve months is forever in politics, it’s true. As Obama slumped in the year past, so Ritter may rebound in the year ahead. But his blue crew is reeling right now. Though no great seer – I’m the guy who thought the Beatles were a flash in the pan – my hunch is Colorado returns to red in 2010.
(CCU President) A packed house at Colorado Christian University's School of Music auditorium gave gubernatorial candidates a rousing reception last night, as they spoke at CCU's Candidate Forum, sponsored by the university's Centennial Institute.
Candidates Scott McInnis, Josh Penry and Dan Maes presented their credentials in an hour long televised forum hosted by Centennial Institute Director John Andrews. An audience of 300 was invited to submit questions which were posed to candidates by CCU Seniors Chad Ryder and Samantha Scoggins. Time permitted candidates to respond to only a few of approximately 50 questions submitted, but all audience questions will be posted tomorrow on this website. The questions will constitute a “checklist of citizen concerns,” Andrews pointed out.
Governor Ritter had been expected to participate, but at 5:00 PM Monday afternoon, his office called to say that he was unable to resolve a scheduling conflict.
The forum was captured on video and will be seen statewide on Colorado Public Television and broadcast by Salem Radio stations around the state, including KNUS 710 in the Denver area. The event was covered by Associated Press and The Denver Post. The Post story is here.
A similar forum for US Senate candidates will be held at the same time, same place, next Tuesday evening the 10th of November.
“If a foreign power had done this, we would consider it an act of war.” So said a national blue-ribbon panel, outraged by bad education policies. I say the same about Colorado Democrats’ economic mismanagement. Bill Ritter’s tax-hike threat this week is the latest absurdity.
Now that Obama’s socialistic interventions and massive stimulus have failed to cure the recession, policymakers in each state must look to their own toolbox for policies to revive prosperity. Gov. Ritter, his legislative majority, and their liberal allies are making all the wrong moves at the worst possible time. Deliver us.
There’s more than Republican rhetoric to back up my indictment. For witnesses I call Arthur Laffer, the father of supply-side economics; Stephen Moore, economist for the Wall Street Journal; and Jonathan Williams, fiscal analyst for the American Legislative Exchange Council. They’ve authored “Rich States, Poor States,” the ALEC economic competitiveness index for 2009.
The book’s findings should both please and worry Coloradans. For the decade through 2007, our economic performance ranked 10th among the states, based on personal income growth, employment growth, and population growth. ALEC’s data belie the lament that fiscal restraints are “strangling Colorado” (Susan Barnes-Gelt in a recent TV debate) or that tax cuts would make this “a state we want to leave” (reader Robert Schmidt after my Aug. 2 column on the car-tax backlash).
Mr. Schmidt can move away if he wants, should Initiative 10 with its reduction of income, vehicle, and phone taxes pass next year. But most people tend to vote with their feet in the other direction. Laffer, Moore, and Williams report that in the 10 states with lowest personal and corporate tax rates, population grew more than twice as fast as it did in the 10 states where tax rates were highest. “Strangling” indeed.
Overall, it’s clear our state was doing something right since 1997, despite shifting party control in the General Assembly and Governor’s office. Colorado families benefited hugely from what Laffer and his colleagues call the “shocking power” of tax and regulatory policy to lift or depress prosperity. Why now, of all times, amid a global economic downturn, would the Ritter crew decide to push every policy lever into full dive?
The “Rich States, Poor States” index puts Colorado 2nd nationally in terms of favorable economic outlook to keep gaining wealth and population, based on a scorecard for 15 variables. Eight of those measure taxation. The others look at debt burden, public employee burden, workers’ compensation, minimum wage, right to work, the liability climate, and fiscal guardrails such as TABOR.
The big-government zealots now in power could not be more backward in their handling of these levers if they were using a checklist. Democrats have raised property taxes and car taxes. They boosted the minimum wage via the 2006 ballot and blocked right to work via the 2008 ballot. They also tried an energy tax and a TABOR-buster in 2008. They’ll seek more debt and taxes for RTD in 2010.
They’ve added over a thousand jobs to state payrolls in each of the last two budgets, deficit woes notwithstanding. This spring they attempted to raid the workers’ comp agency, Pinnacol, and they’re prepping for another try this summer. Our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, lauded by Laffer, is Dracula as far as Ritter is concerned. Reelect him next year and it’s gone the year after, he has said. Legislators are prepping for that as well.
If Coloradans let this economic rampage continue, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and other highly-ranked states on the ALEC index will be quick to pounce. Our loss is their gain. Wealth will flow out of state as surely as water flows downhill. But what a fiasco, to sabotage our state’s competitiveness that way. What a shame.
With impeccable timing, Colorado's taxpayer watchdog group brought out its legislative report card with a perfect score for Rep. Kent Lambert, the Colorado Springs Republican, just hours before Lambert was named by Minority Leader Mike May to fill a coveted Joint Budget Committee vacancy. Here is the press release:
The Colorado Union of Taxpayers (CUT), a nonpartisan group advocating for taxpayers released 2009 CUT Ratings of the Legislature, announcing Taxpayer Champions and Guardians, those Legislators voting most often in favor of the taxpayer. Earning Senate Champions with scores of 97% were Republican Senators Dave Schultheis and Bill Cadman, Colorado Springs. House Champion Representative Kent Lambert, Colorado Springs, scored 100%. Senator Kevin Lundberg, Berthoud, scored 91% ranking him Senate Guardian. House Guardians are Representatives Cory Gardner, Yuma, candidate for US Congress, and Jerry Sonnenberg, Sterling, with scores of 90%. Nine Senators tied for big losers earning 3.13%, while Representative Su Ryden is the House loser at 0%. Governor Ritter scored 9%.
Another "F" for the Legislature. The Legislature continues to pass bills which re-distribute dollars to special interest groups, increase fees, raid cash funds, eliminate spending caps, and attack your liberty! Says CUT President, Marty Neilson, "The Colorado budget crisis which we hear about at every turn, is a budget for 2009/2010 that is 2.6% higher than the prior year! What crisis? In an economic downturn when Colorado citizens must tighten their belts, government must be expected to do the same." "TABOR, the taxpayers' bill of rights, continues to win support from Colorado voters and can be credited for protecting Colorado from the real budget woes being exprienced in California." The Colorado Union of Taxpayers (CUT) is a non-partisan taxpayer activist group whose mission is to help educate the public as to the dangers of excessive taxation, regulation, and government spending, thereby encouraging the reduction of taxes, regulations, and government spending. Visit www.coloradotaxpayer.org for the full 2009 Ratings Report.
Impending mortality tends to focus the mind, and looming elections tend to focus politicians' ears on vox populi. But just as theologians debate the sincerity of "deathbed conversions," voters should be skeptical of lawmakers who find religion as elections near.
Although 15 months remain until the 2010 elections, Democrats are learning — just as Republicans discovered after their 2004 victory tour — how quickly the political winds can shift for the party in power.
In less than a year, Governor Bill Ritter has seen his favorable/unfavorable margin flip from plus-13 to minus-8, according to Public Policy Polling. Newly imposed vehicle licensing "fees," championed by Ritter, won't make Coloradans with cars or trucks any more charitable, either.
Ritter's beneficiary, appointed Senator Michael Bennet, hasn't impressed many outside his own party during his eight months in office. Bennet's approval/disapproval rating stands at minus-7 (34%-41%) among all voters, but even worse (minus-11) among unaffiliated voters.
Nationally, the trend is no more comforting for vulnerable Democrats: Rasmussen shows the generic congressional ballot favoring Republicans 43% to 38%, while Gallup says voters are souring on President Obama's health care push with 50% disapproving and 44% approving.
Not coincidentally, both Ritter and Bennet sought to induce a bit of voter amnesia recently with tough talk on taxing and spending.
Ritter told a gathering of municipal leaders that he won't ask for a tax hike in 2010. The AP report didn't mention whether Ritter's proclamation was met with audible laughter or just snickering.
Here's a governor who convinced the legislature and the state supreme court that legislation increasing property tax revenue isn't really a tax increase and therefore doesn't trigger the constitutional requirement for a public vote. As a result, property owners will pay some $200 million more this year than they would have without Ritter's "tax freeze."
In the wake of that ruling, Ritter and the Democrat legislature used a new loophole manufactured by the supreme court to enact an additional $125 million in tax increases — also without a vote of the people.
Just this year Ritter championed two new "fees" so large as to make taxes superfluous. First he enacted his famous vehicle fee to raise an estimated $250 million by increasing the cost of licensing almost every vehicle in the state by $41 to $51 annually. Then he signed a "hospital provider fee" that will, when fully implemented, raise $600 million a year from new charges on patient services.
With fees like that, who needs taxes?
Note that Ritter didn't vow to veto any tax increases sent to him by the legislature; he merely vowed not to ask for them.
Bennet's charade is pathetically weak, too, introducing the so-called Deficit Reduction Act of 2009 in an attempt to build credentials as a "fiscal hawk."
Remember that Bennet cut his senatorial teeth by voting for President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package — the one that stimulated very little and really costs $3.7 trillion, including $1 trillion in interest.
Bennet also helped kill a measure that simply sought to limit new federal debt over the next 10 years to no more than the old federal debt accumulated in the previous 220 years. That's right, the amendment would have allowed for a doubling of the federal debt but no more. Even that medicine was just too strong for Colorado's appointed junior senator.
Bennet's fiscal hawkishness is so feeble that he doesn't even bother to suggest that the federal budget should be balanced — only that overspending should be capped at 3% of GDP, not this year or next year or the year after that but by 2013. By that miserly standard, President Bush succeeded at least half the time.
No, Colorado's big spenders aren't changing their ways — just their words.
Mark Hillman served as Colorado senate majority leader and state treasurer. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.