Study’s aim for Colorado misses the mark

In Capitol Review, Notes by Mark Hillman

If you’ve ever been disappointed by a meal at a fancy restaurant or researched a major purchase, you know that a big price tag doesn’t guarantee the best quality.

Careful consumers want the most bang for their buck — not the most bucks for their bang.

Unfortunately, big-government liberals seem to think that spending is the best benchmark to judge state government and that spending more is always better.

Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute’s "Aiming for the Middle" whitepaper concludes that you, Mr. and Mrs. Colorado, are under-taxed to the tune of $3.3 billion a year — maybe more.  That’s $1,030 a year for every man, woman and child in the state.

And before you write off this outfit as a bunch of crackpots, notice that a former budget director for Gov. Roy Romer is behind this proposal.

Such a massive spending increase — triple the size of Referendum C — would require a 43-percent across the board increase in state income and sales taxes that currently produce about $7.5 billion a year.

And that’s their price tag just to elevate Colorado to "average" among the 50 states.  "Merely ‘aiming for the middle’ may not be bold enough for Colorado," the report suggests.  To hear them tell it, you’d think we are living in "Colobama."

According to CFPI’s selective data, Colorado ranks near the bottom of most states in various measures of government spending.  Not only are CFPI’s prescriptions flawed, so is its data which seem to seek out skewed indicators to create the impression of impoverished government.

CFPI says Colorado’s state government spending (per capita) ranks 44th among the 50 states, conveniently ignoring that in Colorado many government functions are performed by local — not state — government.

Governing magazine – hardly a conservative soapbox – annually compares spending among the 50 states and finds Colorado ranked 25th in per capita state and local government spending and 21st in state and local revenue — hardly bottom of the barrel.

Next, CFPI regurgitates the tired teachers union propaganda that Colorado ranks 49th in K-12 education spending, requiring a spending hike of $672 million to $1.5 billion a year just to make us  "average."
Governing shows Colorado squarely in the middle, ranked 25th in K-12 spending per capita ahead of our neighbors in Nebraska (28), Kansas (32), Oklahoma (40) and Arizona (49).

Harmonizing with the choir crying poverty for colleges and universities, CFPI ranks Colorado 48th in higher education spending.  Governing places us 26th, again right at the middle and just behind California.  Moreover, the share of Colorado’s population enrolled in higher ed is well above average, suggesting that we’re getting good value and that affordability isn’t a significant barrier.

The big ticket item on CFPI’s wish list is more spending on Medicaid:  "Colorado would need to increase state Medicaid spending by $2.224 billion to reach the US average."

Rather than examine the short-sighted state laws that make private health insurance in Colorado so costly, CFPI advocates making even more people dependant on government health care, moaning that we rank 47th in Medicaid spending.

Colorado has historically chosen to operate a lean system of entitlements.  Nationwide, 1.9 percent of the population qualifies for Medicaid.  In Colorado, the rate is just above one percent due to a prosperous economy and stringent eligibility requirements.  Still, Governing ranks Colorado above average (22nd) in spending on health and hospital programs.

Contrary to the incessant liberal drumbeat for more spending and higher taxes, big government isn’t a drawing card for business or for working families.  CFPI’s prescription would place us squarely on the path to "Coloradofornia."

Taxpayers simply want government to provide basic services – transportation, education, public safety – at an efficient cost.  That’s why low-tax states like Nevada, Texas and Montana are experiencing both economic and population growth.

In the last two elections, Democrats claimed to support fiscal restraint.  If they follow CFPI’s prescription, Colorado voters will soon institute a fiscally-conservative cure.