State employees should not do campaign’s homework

If Douglas Bruce authored a ballot initiative that simply said, “Taxes shall be reduced by $300 million a year” but couldn’t explain which programs should be eliminated or scaled back, pundits would ridicule his half-baked scheme and scold him for wasting the public’s time.

That’s the treatment Gov. Bill Ritter should be receiving for his hastily proposed $300 million oil and gas tax increase — money to be showered on various programs with few specific instructions.

Perhaps because he’s the Governor, some editorialists have suggested that state bureaucrats should flesh out the details of his proposal, specifically his vainglorious “Colorado Promise” college scholarships.

There’s just one problem: state law frowns on commandeering government workers at taxpayer expense to do homework for a ballot campaign that hasn’t even qualified for the ballot, much less been approved by voters. (more…)

Ritter’s supreme confidence

Is it typical political spin or something more tangible that makes Gov. Bill Ritter so incredibly confident that the Colorado Supreme Court will vindicate his strategy to raise your property taxes without your permission?

Taxpayers should reasonably ask that question after the Governor and his staff voiced no concern at all when Judge Christina Habas ruled that last year’s property tax hike “for the children” improperly short-circuited the state constitution.

If the state supreme court concurs with Habas, then egg on their faces will be only a minor problem facing Ritter and Democrat legislators — who unanimously backed the tax hike. Much more significant is the reality that both state budgets signed by Ritter were built around the $272 million produced by the tax increase.

Shortly after the district court ruling, Republican lawmakers asked Ritter to outline a contingency plan for balancing the budget without the tax increase. Incredibly, Ritter’s spokesman dismissed that request as “playing partisan politics.”

Cooler heads might call the request “prudent” or “fiscally responsible.” Still, Ritter’s budget staff would likely respond with a list of “hostages,” threatening draconian cuts, rather than simply tightening its belt and trimming back programs that were expanded due to the property tax hike.

Makes you wonder how a governor — and former district attorney, no less — who swore an oath to uphold the constitution can continue whistling through the graveyard after his day in court yielded a judicial smackdown that could crimp his budget by more than a quarter-billion dollars.

Either Ritter is bluffing or thinks he has inside assurances, which would be improper, that the supreme court will rule in his favor. A shrewd poker player — much less a wise statesman — wouldn’t be so audaciously confident.

Certainly, the odds are ultimately in Ritter’s favor — not because he’s right about the law (he isn’t), but because the court has a track record of ignoring the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) when it doesn’t fit the court’s policy preferences.

By contrast, Habas provided a textbook example of the role of a judge. She clearly seemed sympathetic to what she described as the “well-intentioned and commendable … purpose” of Ritter’s legislation, but she courageously observed that “this Court must be concerned only with the enforcement of the Colorado Constitution.”

Habas’ ruling found certain facts that higher courts will be hard pressed to ignore, even if the justices want to overrule her:

• The legislation in question changed tax policy. Prior to Senate Bill 199, which implemented the tax hike, “all of Colorado’s local school districts followed the provisions of the School Finance Act requiring the mill levy to be adjusted downward in the event property values rose.”

• The change in policy resulted in an increase in revenue. “It was further undisputed … that the direct fiscal impact of SB 199 was the collection of $117,838,000.”

• Voters in local school districts never approved this change. Colorado Department of Education consistently advised school districts that were asking voters to override spending limits that these ballot questions “will have NO effect on your district’s school finance mill levy” and that the ballot measurers “were not asked in a way to allow a change in tax policy.”

Those findings are critical because TABOR requires voter approval of “a tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain to any district.”

Ritter and his policy advisors argued that, because 174 of 178 school districts had received voter approval to retain “all revenues,” schools could also keep additional revenue if the state legislature amended the law to “recapture increases in property taxes due to increased property values.”

The only peculiarity in Habas’ ruling was her finding that SB 199 reflects a change to local school district tax policy but not to state tax policy. She arrives at this conclusion because the policy change did not apply to the four school districts that had not received voter approval to override spending limits.

That’s a puzzling conclusion given that the policy in question is a bill enacted by the state legislature to change state law.

Still, Habas’ decision is legally and factually grounded. If the Supreme Court overturns it, the public deserves to know what Gov. Ritter knew and when he knew it.

You must be a Colorado Democrat!

Updated April 27

If you think private and religious colleges that take no state tax dollars should be regulated by state bureaucrats, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you think taxing marriage will reduce child abuse, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you plan to pay for new programs with revenues from the oil and gas boom but then punish oil and gas companies with higher taxes and ridiculous regulations, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you believe illegal aliens should get a break on college tuition but decorated veterans should not, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you believe it’s OK to require a photo ID to buy beer or cigarettes but not to vote, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you believe businessmen and women are motivated by greed but labor union bosses are not, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you think making someone pay higher taxes is a "freeze," you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you believe trial lawyers want to sue for more money to help their clients, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you think there’s really a difference between a tax and a fee, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you really believe in governmental efficiency or bureaucratic flexibility, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you believe an unemployed trial lawyer is a bad thing, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you think freedom of religion doesn’t apply to churches, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you believe good education comes from relaxing academic standards but getting tough on soft drink sales, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you think we should raise taxes on working families to hire more college professors, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you worry more about the cost of keeping criminals behind bars than the cost of putting them back on the streets, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you think its wrong for government to legislate morality — except when it pays for that legislation with other people’s money, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you think the way to pay for affordable housing is by raising taxes on housing, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If you would rather pay OPEC $115 a barrel for oil than tap oil and gas resources right here at home, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

If your sense of humor has been surgically removed, you must be a Colorado Democrat.

Health care psychosis

Samuel Johnson called second marriages "the triumph of hope over experience." The same might be said for the latest health care reform bill at the State Capitol.

For more than 20 years, crusading politicians have promised to deliver better health care to more people for less money simply by saying "make it so." With rare exceptions, the resulting legislation exacerbates economic distortions, makes insurance impractically expensive, drives insurers out of the state, and creates worse problems than originally existed.

Senate Bill 217 seems to be a desperate attempt to "do something" while buying time to figure out what to do. What it does best is to create case studies in irony, hubris and cognitive dissonance. (more…)

Moralizing with other people’s money

It’s an article of faith among Democrats that the state budget is a "moral document." However, if the state budget reflects the morality of Democrats then it’s all too obvious that they still worship at the altar of big government.

The fiscal shenanigans at the root of the Colorado state budget should cause anyone who’s paying attention to ask if the Democrats’ morality is still inspired by Bill Clinton.

The latest estimate from the legislature’s nonpartisan economists forecasts a decrease in expected revenues of $693 million over five years, echoing spreading worries of an economic slowdown. But this year’s proposed budget calls for no slowdown in spending. (more…)

Obama not so different rationalizing Wright

"If you really believe black people are ‘fellow Americans,’ then treat them as such." — John McWhorter, Losing The Race.

If Barack Obama truly wants to transcend race, he would do well to apply the words of John McWhorter to his "explanation" of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Obama is supposed to be different: a messenger of hope and change, not just another beltway politician; an agent of reconciliation not grievances and reparations; a unifier who transcends partisan and racial divides.

That’s why many gave him the benefit of the doubt when he explained that he didn’t wear a U.S. flag lapel pin because he viewed it as a "substitute for … true patriotism." (more…)

If principles matter, so does McCain

First, I am a conservative; then, I’m a Republican.

Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and James Dobson hold views much closer to my own and to those of most conservatives than does Sen. John McCain.

I have serious, principled disagreements with the Arizona senator on several issues: freedom of speech, global warming and energy explanation, among others.

In the last two contested presidential primaries, my candidate has been Anybody But John McCain. (more…)

Trial lawyer protection is Dems’ priority

If you lie awake at night anguishing over unemployed trial lawyers, you must be a Democrat politician.

In Congress, 66 trial lawyers who donated $1.5 million to Democrat candidates are "credited" with derailing an anti-terrorism bill that passed the Senate with 67 votes.

Here in Colorado, the immediate stakes aren’t as severe, but businesses will be paying for 66th General Assembly for years to come as Democrats advance an agenda that might be dubbed, "Leave No Trial Lawyer Behind." (more…)

Pick your poison with big government health care

Just as local experts were revealing their plans to "fix" what ails Colorado, a heavy-handed health care overhaul crashed on the rocks in California and Democrat presidential candidates clashed over the appropriate size of government’s health care hammer.

Labor Democrats joined with Republicans in California to kill Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed mandate when they realized that working families might not be able to afford health care plans they would be legally required to purchase — logic that equally applies to non-union households.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has dared to criticize Hillary Clinton’s health care expertise, pointing out that HillaryCare 2.0 "forces everyone to buy health insurance, even if you can’t afford it." (more…)