‘Ordinary Coloradans’ can’t afford this kind of help

In Capitol Review, Notes by Mark Hillman

The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist looks beyond. – Henry Hazlitt.

When Democrats at the State Capitol trumpeted their successes on behalf of "ordinary Coloradans" recently, I couldn’t help but reflect on this key point from Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

The way top Democrats tell it, we ordinary Coloradans stand to benefit from a flotilla of renewable energy bills, measures to "help small-business combat soaring health insurance costs," legislation to punish "slipshod construction," and more.

These and so many other bills that passed the legislature this year illustrate what happens when politicians get so close to a perceived problem that they don’t see how their "solutions" will obviously harm the rest of us.

It’s safe to say that key Democrats sincerely believe that these bills benefit the middle class. Just as surely, however, regular folks will wind up digging deeper into their pockets as a result.

A few examples:

• Legislators doubled the mandate on public utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources (House Bill 1281). The original mandate was instituted by voters in 2004, but the first baby-step (three percent) didn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2007. Now, the shoot-first, aim-later cavalry decides to double the mandate to 20 percent before costs can be analyzed.

Remember last year lawmakers fudged Amendment 37’s rate cap that was supposed to protect consumers if renewable sources proved too costly. Worse still, public utilities don’t care much because the legislature authorized them to pass costs along to — that’s right — ordinary Coloradans.

• As if that weren’t enough, Senate Bill 22 allows public utilities to reduce rates charged to low-income families and to offset those costs by jacking up rates to ordinary Coloradans.

• Then there’s the so-called Homeowner Protection Act (HB 1338), aimed at punishing shoddy work by homebuilders by creating new opportunities for homeowners to litigate.

Even if this bill does strike its intended target, it won’t be just unscrupulous homebuilders who pay the cost. All homebuilders will pay more for liability insurance to guard against creative lawsuits brought by bounty-hunter lawyers. Of course, homebuilders will pass along that cost — perhaps $10,000 per house – to ordinary Coloradans when they buy a home.

• Trial lawyers again struck paydirt when the state law that limits lawsuit claims for non-economic damages (for example, pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional stress and inconvenience) was increased ostensibly for inflation — as if inflation makes a broken bone hurt worse.

Current law already allows people who have been harmed to fully collect actual damages (such as compensation for property damage, medical treatment for injuries, and lost wages) when caused by the negligence of another.

Non-economic damages do not make the victim better, but they do give the plaintiff’s attorney more leverage to extract a settlement. Since most ordinary Coloradans carry insurance to cover against such lawsuits, guess who will be paying higher premiums soon.

• Let’s not forget Governor Ritter’s property tax hike for schools, which is estimated to increase ordinary Coloradans’ tax bills by at least $48 million next year and $1.7 billion over the next 10 years.

Proponents argue that most school districts already have obtained voter permission to keep excess revenues. However, local voters were routinely promised that they were not voting for a tax increase and that the extra money would supplement state funding.

Thanks to SB 199, school districts must use that money to backfill a reduction in state funding and taxpayers in many districts can indeed expect property taxes to increase faster.

• Finally, there’s the bill Democrats would rather forget, HB 1072. Gov. Ritter sensibly vetoed it, but all 59 legislative Democrats voted for it.

This travesty would have eliminated the secret-ballot, supermajority requirements that for 64 years have protected the rights of ordinary Coloradans to keep their jobs without being forced to pay union dues.

Giving union thugs more opportunities to "twist" arms and intimidate working men and women certainly isn’t putting regular folks ahead of special interests.

Ordinary Coloradans can’t afford much more of this "help."