Fiscal epiphany for Ritter & Bennet? Unlikely

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.

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