Or will they undo it? Enroute to a defeat for governor of Virginia, the Democrat blamed his loss on “the slogan from hell: ‘No Car Tax.’” That was Don Beyer when Jim Gilmore beat him in 1997.
Unseated as governor of Arkansas, the Democrat realized he had “unwisely raised the state motor vehicle tax,” writes biographer Nigel Hamilton. A visitor “found him on the floor, bawling like a baby,” and railing at Jimmy Carter. That was Bill Clinton after Frank White humiliated him in 1980.
If Coloradans oust Bill Ritter in 2010, our gentlemanly governor will control his emotions better than Slick Willie. But his undoing could be identical to that of Clinton and Beyer – misjudging how mad Americans can get when government messes with their cars, trucks, campers, and trailers.
Some genius, maybe the same consultant that’s charging CU almost a million dollars for logo design, coined the acronym FASTER for Ritter’s bill that boosted vehicle registration fees and late penalties, effective July 1. The bill is supposed to raise $250 million a year for roads. But the only thing that’s going faster so far is Republican hopes.
The surprise has people steamed. In a puny concession, Ritter offered to roll back the late charges on non-motorized vehicles, such as boat trailers. Thanks a lot. In a defensive crouch, county clerks met citizen anger with canned complaint postcards and extra guards. The brouhaha is far from over.
The average additional hit of $32 per vehicle, or even the maximum penalty of $100, may sound trivial at a time when politicians talk in trillions. But like a candidate’s $400 haircut, a Pentagon platinum toilet seat, or that British parliamentarian’s moat-cleaning allowance, it’s the kind of crazy-making detail that infuriates recession-weary taxpayers.
Insult follows injury when you hear that the last two letters in FASTER – Rep. Joe Rice’s legislative masterpiece, which has GOP strategists taking aim at him – stand for “economic recovery.” Can Dems really believe picking our pockets is the right remedy in hard times?
Freda Poundstone, Republican former mayor of Greenwood Village, knows it isn’t. The grande dame of citizen petitions in Colorado, author of a 1974 constitutional amendment that bears her name and halted Denver’s annexation march, hopes to get on the 2010 ballot with a petition to halt the revenue grab. Her Initiative No. 10, currently gathering signatures, would cut taxes on vehicles, income, and phones – VIP for short.
Annual car registrations would be capped at $10, vehicle ownership and sales taxes would phase down, state income tax would drop from 4.63% to 4.5% with further cuts in fat economic times, and telecom taxes of all sorts would end. Colorado Tax Reform is the sponsoring group. I was an early signer.
Initiative No. 10 gains urgency from a little-noticed 2008 ruling of the state Supreme Court, Barber vs. Ritter, which effectively wiped out the inconvenient distinction between what’s a tax, subject to TABOR limits and voting, and what’s a fee at the legislature’s discretion. Unless we the people can win the next round of ballot battles and rebuild fiscal guardrails, Colorado could follow California over the cliff.
This election will be a doozy. Ritter wants rid of TABOR, even though Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore in their new book “Rich States, Poor States,” crunch numbers to prove it’s been “a boon to the economy of the state,” tenth strongest nationally since 1997. But disgusted motorists may want rid of Ritter and his party. Then there’s Poundstone with her petition, and that Clear the Bench campaign seeking to fire four justices.
The political rehab for automobile casualties, where Beyer and Clinton once checked in, could be admitting a Colorado inmate 15 months from now.
(Denver Post, July 5) In lieu of fireworks, a cannon boomed at sunrise and sunset over Lewis and Clark’s campsite on a Missouri River tributary in present-day Kansas on July 4, 1804. They drank a toast and named the place Independence Creek. It was the first-ever Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi, writes Stephen Ambrose in “Undaunted Courage.”
This weekend, 233 years after the Declaration of Independence claimed for Americans our “separate and equal station… among the powers of the earth,” the Colorado map abounds with reminders of the nation’s heroes and heritage. We overlook them amid the daily routine. Let’s note a few examples and think about why they matter.
Colorado was at first part of Kansas Territory. We were later called Jefferson Territory, commemorating the man who authored the Declaration, bought the vast West from France, and dispatched Lewis and Clark to explore it. Jefferson County is all that’s left of that, though a town in South Park also bears his name.
Independence was a mining camp between Leadville and Aspen. It’s gone, but mighty Independence Pass remains, great for summer snowball fights when we were kids. Independence Street traverses Jefferson County, a hundred blocks west of Washington, Adams, and Madison streets. Other Denver streets honor Franklin and Jay, Jackson and Lincoln, Grant and Sherman. Up the Platte there’s also a Mt. Sherman and a town of Grant.
But as for the community where I live, “there was no Centennial,” James Michener assures us in his 1974 novel by that title. No, in pioneer days there wasn’t, but since 2000 there has been. Life imitates art. Colorado’s moniker as the Centennial State, of course, came with our statehood year of 1876, a century after the original Glorious Fourth. Town names logically followed, first fictional, then real.
Lest this historical ramble seem too lofty, we can also recall the old Centennial Racetrack near Littleton, where, if nothing politically profound occurred, at least liberty and the pursuit of happiness flourished. And for the Michener fans, we’ll note that a road in Douglas County bears the name of his imaginary Venneford Ranch. An Aurora restaurant even enshrined his trapper Pasquinel.
All quite diverting, but proving little, you say. What’s in a name anyway? Cinderella City once sat astride Jefferson Avenue in Englewood, after all. What is history, you’ll scoff with Napoleon (he of the astute Louisiana land sale, three cents an acre), but “a set of lies agreed upon.” Or blunter still, you’ll say with Henry Ford that history is bunk. But as an American and an heir of Western civilization, I’ll say it’s not.
Listen to the land. Get past the nondescript stuff, tune out the schlock, and you’ll hear Colorado place names echoing with inspiration from something new and special for human freedom that began in 1776 and hasn’t stopped yet. It has continued through 1787, 1815, 1863, 1876, 1917, 1941, 1964, 1989, 2001, and right to our own day when Navy Seal Danny Dietz was memorialized with a statue and a president was nominated at Mile High.
To look lovingly at the map of our state is to know Faulkner’s wisdom that “the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” Our past is present and our past is good. It elevates and nourishes us. Barack Obama talks about remaking America, transforming America, laying a new foundation. He’s welcome to try, but a lot of us will resist fiercely for the reasons indicated here.
Make her better, yes; but honor her, celebrate her, cherish and guard her above all. The heart’s blood of generations mapped her. The truer our sense of place, of history, of destiny – the sweeter our Independence Day.
Grappling with declining state revenues makes for some very unpleasant budget choices, as Gov. Bill Ritter and the Democrat majorities in the state legislature learned over the past 12 months.
It's fair to criticize those choices, including the governor last year denying for several months that a problem existed. Yet anyone who has shouldered the responsibility of balancing a budget during a recession understands that learning from your own mistakes is inevitable.
Learning, however, is essential - both to sound fiscal policy and to political credibility. That's why it was astonishing to hear Governor Ritter and leading Democrats dismiss the need for a special session of the legislature on the very day they acknowledged that the state will start the new fiscal year nearly $400 million in the hole.
Anticipating further economic deterioration, legislators gave Ritter the authority to "borrow" up to $500 million from next year's budget to pay this year's bills. Based on new projections by Legislative Council economists, about half that amount will be needed.
Moreover, legislative economists forecast tax revenues for the new budget year, beginning July 1, to be $135 million less than budgeted and $874 million short over three years. Those economists prudently expect the recession to continue into 2010 in Colorado and foresee possible recovery "at least a year after that."
That's the point at which this scenario takes on an incredible aura of déjà vu.
Economists in the Governor's Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) paint a much brighter picture, forecasting a recovery later this year. That outlook enables OSPB to expect an additional $1.3 billion to spend over the same three-year period.
Last September, Legislative Council sounded the alarm early enough for the governor and legislature to call a special session just three months into the fiscal year - ample time to revise the budget and mitigate the shockwaves to affected programs and participants.
Instead, the governor boldly proclaimed, "One of (the forecasts) is pretty significantly wrong," and according to the Denver Post, he "made it clear" that the error wasn't in the projections from his office. Days later when the Wall Street financial crisis struck, Ritter ordered a "hiring freeze" which, it turns out, wasn't nearly as frigid as advertised.
In December, with half of the fiscal year passed, Legislative Council pegged the budget shortfall at $631 million. Ritter's OSPB forecast a mere $70 million deficit. Two weeks later, OSPB admitted it had used "outdated information" and issued a new estimate of $230 million in red ink.
By the time the legislature convened in January, the remaining choices were severe cuts, exacerbated by months of inaction, or accounting gimmicks that postponed the day of reckoning and made balancing the 2009-10 budget even more difficult.
Choosing to procrastinate, legislators tried yet another dodge by attempting to extort $500 million which employers had paid into the state's fund for injured workers. Then they wiped away budget caps that restrain spending in good years - as if that would somehow create more money amid a withering economy.
Finally, after raiding trust funds, re-imposing a property tax on senior citizens, and accepting a federal bailout, they proclaimed the budget balanced.
With prescience, Republican leader Sen. Josh Penry observed, "This budget will be out of balance on June 20."
And so it is.
Incredibly, Governor Ritter and Democrat legislators seem headed for another year of budgetary brinksmanship, placing all their bets on a quick economic recovery.
For five years, Democrats have controlled the legislature and for three years the governor's mansion. Colorado taxpayers are right to expect that, after blundering through a year of budgetary mayhem, Ritter and Company will learn from the past and make prudent choices this time.
As recent transplants to Colorado from Pennsylvania, we are overwhelmed daily by the beauty and majesty of our new home state. As a family, we have enjoyed hiking for several years. Many of our family vacations (New Hampshire, Virginia and the Grand Canyon) were planned to experience hiking in these areas. And now that we are residents of Colorado, we no longer need to leave the state to experience the greatest hiking in the country!
Of course, the biggest challenge for hikers in Colorado are the “14ers” (the 54 mountains that surpass 14,000 feet above sea level). There are many hikers who have made it their goal to summit all 54 of them, including my family. So we figured it was time to get started. Unfortunately, my wife had to work, so it was just going to be Daddy and the girls (Zoe, 14 and Madeline, 11).
We decided to make our first 14er one that is ranked on the easy side (and also fairly close to home): Mt. Bierstadt. Behold...
While we have hiked as much as 16 miles in one day (we did the Grand Canyon, up and down, in one day), and have done some fairly significant elevation gain hikes (over 4000 feet), we had never before hiked at 12-14,000 feet above sea level and, as most hikers know, altitude makes a big difference.
We started at 7:00 am and reached the summit at 11:30. Mt. Bierstadt is a 7-mile round-trip hike with a 2850 foot elevation gain from the trailhead to the summit. While it was at times a struggle for the girls, they managed very well. It was great to see them overcome the difficulties, including shortness of breath, achy muscles, loss of appetite, and the occasional anxiety of wondering whether or not they could really do it. They could!
The summit does indeed make all the work worthwhile. It was great to see my daughters’ relief and sense of achievement when they reached the top. And, of course, the views are magnificent! Mt. Evans is nearby and to the west the majestic Rockies seem to go on forever. God’s creation is awe-inspiring indeed! Whenever I experience the magnificence of the Creation, it is easy to find the proper perspective: we are small and God is great; the troubles of the world are temporary and God’s reign endures forever; the pleasures of spending quality time with family; and the privilege of knowing a gracious God who allows us to enjoy His Creation.