Tuesday, 7 December 2010 12:08 by Admin
Next Monday, Dec. 13, Centennial Institute will assist President Bill Armstrong in welcoming Gov. Bill Ritter for a return visit to the CCU campus. Ritter spoke here during his campaign for governor in 2006. He joins us again during his final month in office
*** Scroll down for a complete calendar of events, December 2010 to April 2011 ***
for a noontime talk in the CCU Events Center to review the accomplishments, challenges, and lessons of the past four years. Anyone may attend, but you will need a reservation. Email us with your name and the number in your party at Centennial@ccu.edu.
A month from now, Centennial will start the New Year of 2011 with a bang on Wednesday, Jan. 12, when advocates from the left and right face off in a debate on immigration policy. Rosemary Jenks of Numbers USA and former state Sen. David Schultheis will make the conservative case. Daniel Carroll Rodas of Denver Seminary and state Sen. Lucia Guzman will make the liberal case.
The debate will be held just off the CCU campus at Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 S. Allison Parkway, 7pm on Jan. 12. Once again, anyone may attend, but you will need a reservation. Email us with your name and the number in your party at Centennial@ccu.edu.
Click for more on the immigration debate: Immigration Debate Jan. 12
And scroll down for our full calendar of Winter-Spring 2011 events. You are always welcome!
CENTENNIAL INSTITUTEEvents, Winter 2010-2011----------------------------------------Monday, December 13, 12 noonCCU Events CenterHonored Guest: Gov. Bill Ritter“A Vision for Colorado’s Future”------------------------------------------Wednesday, January 12, 7pmLakewood Cultural CenterImmigration Debate: “Which Way America?”Rosemary Jenks & David Schultheisvs. Daniel Carroll & Lucia Guzman-----------------------------------------(Invitation Only)Friday, January 21, 730amBusiness Council Breakfast“Making Poor Nations Rich”Dr. Benjamin Powell---------------------------------------- Thursday, February 10, 730amDowntown Policy Breakfast“New Hope for the Inner City”Dr. Robert Woodson---------------------------------------- (Invitation Only)Friday, February 18, 730amBusiness Council Breakfast“Will Obamacare Survive?”Dr. Sally Pipes----------------------------------------Monday, February 28, 7pmCCU Beckman CenterIssue Monday: “Better Schools on Lower Budgets”William Moloney & Krista Kafer----------------------------------------(Invitation Only)Friday, March 18, 730amBusiness Council Breakfast “Free Speech & Campaign Finance”Dr. Bradley Smith-----------------------------------------(Invitation Only)Friday, April 15, 730amBusiness Council Breakfast “Ten Books that Worsened the World”Dr. Benjamin Wiker-----------------------------------------Thursday, April 21, 7pmCCU Music CenterForeign Policy Debate:“United Nations Pro & Con”Presenters TBA------------------------------------------AND BACK BY POPULAR DEMANDFriday, July 29 – Sunday, July 31Denver Marriott City CenterWestern Conservative Summit 2011Presenters & Pricing TBASee WesternConservativeSummit.com------------------------------------------Admission Free except where noted Reservations RequiredReserve at Centennial@ccu.edu Or Call 303.963.3424John Andrews, Director
How convenient, now that Bill Ritter is no longer running for governor and John Hickenlooper is hoping to succeed him, Hick suddenly discovers after months of silence that the incumbent Democrat was "anti-business" in brutalizing the oil and gas industry last year and "crazy" in raising taxes during a recession this year. Meanwhile the Governor obligingly plays his part by voicing annoyance at the Mayor's criticisms. Why should we believe either of them for one moment? Hickenlooper has been a tax-hiker and fee-booster himself during seven years in office. Ritter has already taken one for the team by declining a second term, and now takes another by feigning indignation over the jabs from Hick, while winking to signal that of course he understands a Dem candidate has to run to the center under present circumstances. Hick used a business audience, the South Metro Chamber, as the setting for his phony embrace of free-market realities amid the economic doldrums. Let's not witness the nauseating spectacle of Colorado business again being fooled by a Democrat in 2010 as they were in 2006, when Ritter stole Bob Beauprez's clothes. One of Denver's most seasoned and successful tycoons told me this week he will test Hickenlooper's bona fides with two simple questions, on both of which the Mayor is very unlikely to give a firm yes: (1) Will you roll back the Ritter executive order for unionization of state employees? (2) Will you resist pressure from the White House to stack the 2011 redistricting so Dems are guaranteed five or even six of the state's seven congressional seats for the next decade? This downtown businessman is thinking more a lot clearly than suburban chamber director John Brackney, who gave a Hick a softball introduction before this week's snow job. When you cut through all the soothing talk and play-acting, the bottom line is that (a) our Mayor is not really at odds with our Governor and his job-killing statist agenda and (b) neither our Mayor nor our Governor is prepared to cross their President on any matter of importance. That is to say, a vote for Hickenlooper this fall is a vote for Obama. Surely Colorado's business community won't be so gullible as to go down that road -- again.
(Denver Post, Jan. 24)) Why did Gov. Bill Ritter fold his reelection campaign? Why is Sen. Michael Bennet so far behind in the polls? Why did Scott Brown win in Massachusetts? Why is Barack Obama struggling to save his presidency, one year after taking office in triumph?
Because Americans have completely lost patience with irresponsibility. For years this column has talked of the need for a responsibility movement to challenge both political parties. “We’ll call it Element R and launch it today, right here in Colorado,” I wrote in 2007. What the country has seen in recent months is Element R, in fact if not in name, starting to take charge.
Surveys foretold what elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts have confirmed: sharp declines in Democratic support, benefiting Republican candidates but not greatly boosting Republican registration. It’s the independent voters whose ranks are growing. Citizens are less inclined to ally with either the donkey or the elephant. Both have forfeited confidence.
People’s aroused insistence for responsibility instead of irresponsibility, on the part of those we entrust with power, best explains the new political landscape. To start with definitions, responsibility means keeping a trust, doing your duty, facing the music. Whereas irresponsibility means shirking, acting in disregard of consequences, behaving as if 2 and 2 don’t make 4. Examples abound.
Ritter’s fatal wound, absent-father guilt aside, seems to have been either fiscal and executive recklessness or an impending legal-ethical scandal. He might have brazened it out, whatever the case, if years of gubernatorial irresponsibility by the likes of Davis in California, Blagojevich in Illinois, and Sanford in South Carolina hadn’t inflamed public disgust. But in 2010 the odds have become prohibitive, so he’s quitting.
The responsibility deficit for Bennet as an interim senator from Colorado matches that of Martha Coakley in her failure to become an interim senator from Massachusetts. Neither grasped that the country’s tolerance for unserious political palaver-as-usual is exhausted. The national BS detector is pegged. Bennet’s phony indignation over corrupt deals in the health care bill, and then over secret negotiations for same, backed up in neither case by his vote, simply spelled game over.
As for our glib young president, Mr. Obama set a trap for himself on inauguration day. After calling for a “new era of responsibility,” he has proved epically irresponsible ever since – weakening us against our enemies, selling out our allies, ballooning the deficit, expanding government, worsening the recession by bullying business, and obsessing over socialized medicine like Ahab with the whale. No wonder his numbers are at record lows.
The irresponsibility epidemic, a contagion long carried by Democrats but often caught by Republicans as well, finally triggered public fury in last year’s tea parties and townhalls. This is the uprising I’ve called Element R. But is it a movement – perhaps even a force capable of remaking the GOP? Or is it merely an electoral mood?
The responsibility backlash will continue taking its healthy toll. Whether it’s durable enough to take charge, time will tell. Though unaffiliated voters hold the balance of power, the coherence of their views is doubtful. Here in Colorado, it would be interesting to see Element R gel and assert itself to the point of asking questions that the established parties shrink from. These might include:
Does the initiative process make government so responsive as to be irresponsible? Is marijuana prohibition working any better than alcohol prohibition did? In legislating away both pregnancy and parenthood, have we signed a demographic suicide pact? Is Muslim sharia law compatible with liberty?
Dems and GOP alike have done none too well with our sacred responsibility for “keeping the republic,” in Franklin’s words. May they both feel the righteous wrath of Element R.
After all the Hickenhoopla dies down, Colorado voters may experience a sick feeling of déjà vu as the Denver mayor and Democrat candidate for governor claims that he's "business friendly."
We've been down this campaign trail before, just four years ago, when nice guy Bill Ritter bent over backward to ingratiate himself to every gulliblebusiness organization in the state. Only the most ardent Republicans refused to fall for the fallacy of a business-friendly Democrat, and business leaders and editorial boards across the state have been (deservedly) kicking themselves ever since.
So, here we go again.
Like Ritter, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper comes across as likable. His knack for self-deprecating humor is particularly endearing.
Like Ritter, Hickenlooper seems like the kind of guy whom you would welcome as your next-door neighbor. Neighborliness might indicate he has the skills to shovel snow off your sidewalk -- as Hickenscooper has already demonstrated -- but doesn't equate to "this guy will make a great governor."
Like Ritter, Hickenlooper aims to avoid any serious challenge from within his own party, and that doesn't happen unless labor union bosses are convinced they have a candidate who will do their bidding.
The Denver Post reported that one of Hickenlooper's early testing-the-waters phone calls was to Wally Stealey, retired lobbyist and labor union stalwart, who complained that "labor had been terribly abused by Ritter."
This is the same Ritter whom The Post -- which in 2006 lauded him as "the best choice for Colorado" -- labeled "a toady to labor bosses" and "a bagman for unions and special interests" just one year later.
While Hickenlabor strives mightily to assure union bosses that he will be even better for them (which means worse for Colorado's economy) than was Ritter, will so-called "business leaders" again be duped?
Will they dismiss the costly lessons learned during the past three years?
Will they believe that a candidate who can enthrall hard-core union leaders and hard-left environmentalists will, once elected, throw them under the bus to please the business community?
When Hickenlooper ran for mayor, he ran in a nonpartisan election decided by personal popularity and he benefited from being "anybody but Don Mares." But as Ritter has learned, when Democrats control the legislature, a Democrat governor who vetoes Democrat legislation -- particularly legislation backed by organized labor -- evokes the ire of his party's liberal base.
Remember that four years ago, The Denver Post reported that candidate Bill Ritter "indicated he would be at least as business friendly as Republican Gov. Bill Owens." To prove this, Ritter reviewed the 47 bills that Owens had vetoed in 2005 when sent to him by a decidedly business-hostile Democrat legislature. Ritter claimed that he would have vetoed 38 of those bills.
Despite that tough talk, Gov. Ritter has vetoed eight, seven and four bills, respectively, in his first three years. Out of more than 1,400 billspassed, that's a rubber-stamp rate of 98.7%. And still Big Labor feels "abused."
Did the Democrat-controlled legislature suddenly turn over a business-friendly leaf and cease to do the bidding of labor unions, trial lawyers and anti-capitalists? Hardly.
Quick-witted Republican state chairman Dick Wadhams dubbed the new Democrat governor-in-waiting "Hickenritter" and argued, "There is not a dime's worth of difference between (Ritter and Hickenlooper)."
Colorado voters deserve, Wadhams says, to know which Ritter policies Hickenlooper will overturn:
* Ritter's property tax increase?* Ritter's vehicle fee increase?* Ritter's early release of violent criminals?* Ritter's executive order to unionize state workers?* Ritter's repeal of state spending limits?* Ritter's job killing energy policy?
Hopefully, Colorado voters will insist on firm answers to these tough questions after enduring three -- going on four -- years of a Democrat monopoly at the State Capitol.
After all, voters bought the myth of a business-friendly Democrat and it's cost more than $1 billion higher taxes and fees ‹ all without a public vote.
The old adage says, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
Colorado can't afford to be fooled twice.
Centennial Fellow Mark Hillman served as state treasurer and senate majority leader. To readmore or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com .
Kid-glove treatment by the Denver Post on Gov. Bill Ritter's decision not to run again, makes me miss the Rocky Mountain News as never before. And it increases my gratitude for the feisty skepticism still alive and well in talk radio and the blogosphere.
In three days of coverage on the Ritter story by the Post, Monday night to Wednesday morning, online and in print, I haven't seen a single mention of the Governor's ethical and legal exposure over close aide Stephanie Villafuerte changing her story on the 2006 campaign controversy over leniency to illegal aliens.
Doubly odd since the Post itself, with suddenly-invisible reporter Karen Crummy in the lead, doggedly drove this issue and forced Villafuerte to pull her nomination for US Attorney. Triply odd since reputable news organizations such as Examiner.com have reported on the growing talk of possible impropriety in her personal relationship with Ritter.
The Post, last man standing among Denver's major daily papers, owes the public extra vigilance in that role. Instead, for some reason, it has morphed from watchdog to lapdog in this latest chapter of the Ritter melodrama.
Thankfully, Peter Boyles of KHOW in the morning has stayed on the Villafuerte angle. Dan Caplis & Craig Silverman, KHOW in the afternoon, have a different but equally probing take, speculating there was a Ken Salazar / Barack Obama coup to force the vulnerable Ritter out and hand the nomination to Salazar. Jon Caldara observed in an email this morning that sometimes "family priority" is code for a straying spouse trying to make things right. But not a hint in the Colorado's print journal of record, the Post, on any of these plausible and relevant possibilities.
Did Bill Ritter really jump by his own volition, as a sympathetic Lynn Bartels piece in today's Post has it? Or was he pushed -- by powerful Democrats here and in Washington, or by looming revelations of scandal? A truly free and independent press needs to be asking those questions.
"Don't wet on my leg and call it rain," LBJ used to say when someone tried to gull him in obvious fashion. (Actually he said it in more earthy terms.) Politicians try to do that all the time, of course, to each other and to us. They can't help themselves. That's where the First Amendment and the watchdog media come in. If there's no entity left in Colorado to do that with ink and paper in l'affaire Ritter, at least we're fortunate that some in the new and alternative media are staying in the hunt.
(Denver Post, Dec. 6) All that is covered shall be revealed, promises the Good Book. It’s the perfect motto for America’s open society. Secrets are fools’ gold. Leaks will out. Thanks to a leaker at East Anglia University, we now know climate change isn’t cooking the planet after all. Climate alarmists are cooking the data.
Meanwhile in Colorado, leakers are heating up the governor’s race. A week after the election, someone scooped Josh Penry’s plan to end his candidacy against Gov. Bill Ritter. A week later, someone else scooped Scott McInnis’s plan to unify Republicans around an issue contract. I’ve got this week’s leak.
A confidential memo from inside the McInnis campaign showed up under my doormat. The authors call themselves the Skunk Works. The address line says, “Eyes Only: Mighty Mac,” and the subject reads: “The Carter Question and the Treaty of Fifth Avenue.” This is pure journalistic catnip, Pulitzer-quality stuff. Let me quote:
“Boss, to say you had a good November would be like saying Elway could pass a little. Last month was terrific. Overnight you’re the consensus nominee, endorsed by past and present GOP icons from Owens to Tancredo to Penry, and your Platform for Prosperity puts Republicans on offense with all three big issues – jobs, jobs, and jobs. Plus the platform’s tough stance on taxes, spending, illegal aliens, and crime erases your Washington taint as an ex-congressman.
“Ritter is now the one weighed down with Beltway baggage and on the defensive for his linkage to an Obama stimulus that didn’t stimulate. With total jobs in Colorado actually below 2006 levels, you can score big next fall with the old Jimmy Carter question on whether voters are better off than four years ago. Obviously not, so it’s time for Mac at quarterback.
“But since our job as Skunkers is to pipe in reality, not spin flattery, here’s the other side. With this new platform appearing to be written for you by powerful rivals, you’re in the awkward position of Nixon in 1960 when his issues were dictated by Rockefeller. Divisions over the so-called ‘Treaty of Fifth Avenue’ helped defeat the ticket. We need to change the 2010 story line, and fast.
“The potential winning message of the Platform for Prosperity is threatened by party grumbling and PR vulnerability. Pundits, both left and right, scoff that our agenda is too vague to attract swing voters. Many of the GOP faithful are saying we prefer insider manipulation instead of inclusiveness. Some worry that you won’t run hard on the platform, or fight for it if elected. What’s the McInnis response?
“To quiet the complaints on process, do three things. Hold grassroots platform hearings with Republicans across the state. Let assembly delegates choose your Lieutenant Governor, possibly Dan Maes. And gain endorsements from Bob Schaffer and Bob Beauprez at whatever cost, finally healing the breach from your ’06 and ’08 jabs at them.
“As for issues, Skunkers say go full throttle. Dramatize your platform with specifics. For job creation, pledge to zero out the corporate income tax. Colorado would boom! Roll out ballot issues to fortify TABOR and to let health insurers from any state write coverage here. Dare the legislature next spring to pass a top-10 list of prosperity bills. Call for voting down at least one member of our constitution-shredding Supreme Court, perhaps labor hack Michael Bender.
“Remember, Boss – McCain lost the presidency partly because millions of people feared his moderate mushiness would doom American conservatism if he won. If we don’t catch the wave of tea parties and townhalls, that could be your political obituary as well. But channel your inner Palin the next 300 days, and Ritter’s job is yours!”
('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?
“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.
It's becoming a ritual at the State Capitol: a committee is meeting to study the competing pressures of spending mandates and spending limits on the state budget.
Like those before them, this year's panel has heard from a litany of experts and special interests, almost all of whom will complain about the Gordian knot in which the state budget is entangled.
Yes, Colorado's budget is complicated and elected officials are often asked to make difficult, sometimes incoherent, fiscal choices. Like it or not, the people of Colorado have, in exchange for their tax dollars, insisted on external checks and balances which sometimes become unbalanced themselves.
What's missing in these studies is a big picture discussion of the desirable size, role and cost of our state government. Do our families, businesses and communities exist to serve our government or does our government exist to serve us? Also, how much government do we want compared to how much do we want to pay for?
If we exist to serve government, then the state is entitled to a sustainable revenue stream to support the functions that lawmakers and voters have instituted. Voters will inevitably be squeezed for more taxes as the economy slows, which is when we can least afford it.
If government exists to serve us, then the state's authority to tax and spend must be confined within limits that don't impose a hardship on families or impair job creation. Lawmakers must prioritize spending and acknowledge that some programs simply cannot be funded.
Recently, the University of Denver released a study that concluded, "[T]here simply is not enough money to pay for the government we have created." That is, "we" want more from government than we are willing to pay.
Advocates of more social welfare spending contend that the demand for government services is greatest during an economic downturn — precisely when tax revenues are declining. For this counter-cyclical concept of budgeting to be successful demands something lawmakers have seldom proven willing to do: save money when the economy is growing so it can be spent when the economy falters.
Saving even meager amounts will always remain difficult for legislators because "tax-receivers" exert more influence over fiscal decisions than do taxpayers. Taxpayers elect legislators and might reasonably expect that those they elect will make the taxpayers' interest in keeping more of what they earn their top priority.
However, tax receivers spend millions on lobbyists who cajole legislators to direct more spending toward their preferred programs. That's why the voice of tax-receivers — who speak loudest at the very moment when tax dollars are appropriated — is always louder than the voice of taxpayers — who speak loudest in November, several months removed from key spending decisions.
Think about it another way: If a family of three has $75,000 in gross income, it pays about $5,700 for all state taxes and fees in one year. For every $1 million state government spends, the cost to this family is about 64 cents. Taxpayers won't expend much effort to save 64 cents, but the program that hopes to receive that $1 million will certainly spend thousands on lobbyists to secure it.
That's why the "concentrated interests" of tax-receivers have an inherent advantage over the "diffused interests" of taxpayers.
For that very reason, it is entirely reasonable for taxpayers to limit the state's taxing and spending authority and to expect those they elect to abide by those limits.
In the past three years, that hasn't happened. Governor Ritter and the Democrat majorities in the legislature have used raw partisan power to deny voters a voice on some $1 billion in higher property taxes and new "fees" on drivers, hospital patients and more. That the activist Colorado Supreme Court approved these tactics simply adds insult to taxpayers' injury.
Nobody said balancing a budget is easy — especially during a recession. However, politicians ask for this responsibility when they campaign for office. When they then use raw partisan power to ignore the voters, they can hardly expect those voters to loosen the few taxpayer protections that remain.
Mark Hillman served as Senate majority leader and state treasurer. He is now a Centennial Institute Fellow. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.
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.