Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lack of Leadership

Colorado is facing a budget shortfall of about $250 million in the current fiscal year. This is on top of earlier reductions in expectations for revenue of $340 million, $200 million and $500 million, give or take.

When the legislature is not in session, like now, the job of balancing the budget falls on the Governor’s shoulders. It seems like he is shrugging.

There are three ways to approach the problem of balancing a budget that is out of whack. You can:
1. cut spending
2. raise taxes
3. do nothing and hope the economy gets better

It certainly appears to me that four weeks after our latest shortfall projection, the Governor is choosing door number three.

It’s not that he hasn’t tried before to take a stand. He did say that he wouldn’t raise taxes. Then he said that tax increases would be part of the “conversation”.

He decided to actually cut some spending.

He planned to save money by letting bad guys out of jail early. It appears that that idea is getting a second look after we find out that he’s letting out a sex offender and guys with multiple assault charges.

He decided to take $200 a month away from the needy and disabled. After a month of protests, he relented on that idea.

He decided to cut spending on DUI enforcement. He changed his mind on that one in about four days.

It appears that his budget balancing ideas have expiration dates. The good news is that so does a Governor’s term.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Judicial Activism?

Today’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling found that the courts can determine whether the state provides an adequate level of funding for K-12 education.

Here is what the state Constitution says:

Section 2. Establishment and maintenance of public schools.

The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, may be educated gratuitously. One or more public schools shall be maintained in each school district within the state, at least three months in each year; any school district failing to have such school shall not be entitled to receive any portion of the school fund for that year.

It might surprise some to read that I don’t consider this ruling “judicial activism”; it may be stretching their authority, but if you believe as I do that they have judicial review, the right to determine whether a law is constitutionally sound, then they can look at our spending and review it’s constitutionality.

The Constitution also has this part:


The powers of the government of this state are divided into three distinct departments,--the legislative, executive and judicial; and no person or collection of persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any power properly belonging to either of the others, except as in this constitution expressly directed or permitted.

It also says this:

Section 1. General assembly - initiative and referendum.

(1) The legislative power of the state shall be vested in the general assembly consisting of a senate and house of representatives, both to be elected by the people, but the people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and amendments to the constitution and to enact or reject the same at the polls independent of the general assembly and also reserve power at their own option to approve or reject at the polls any act or item, section, or part of any act of the general assembly.

Which means that while the court has the right to say the legislature is or isn’t providing a thorough and uniform level of education, they don’t have the right to say how much can or has to be spent. That would constitute a genuine Constitutional crisis.

They have traditionally understood this and found the following:


Constitution is limitation on plenary power of general assembly. The constitution is not a grant of power to the general assembly, but the general assembly is invested with plenary power for all the purposes of civil government, and the constitution is but a limitation upon that power. People ex rel. Rhodes v. Fleming, 10 Colo. 553, 16 P. 298 (1887); Colo. State Civil Serv. Employees Ass'n v. Love, 167 Colo. 436, 448 P.2d 624 (1968).

General assembly determines its constitutional duties. The judicial cannot say to the legislative department that it has, or has not, performed its constitutional duties. That the legislative department must determine for itself, independent of either of the other departments of government, by passing such legislation as, in its judgment, the constitution requires. In re Senate Resolution No. 4, 54 Colo. 262, 130 P. 333 (1913).

And general assembly is free to choose any method which is appropriate to reach a proper governmental end. Pillar of Fire v. Denver Urban Renewal Auth., 181 Colo. 411, 509 P.2d 1250 (1973).

Legislative power is authority to make laws and to appropriate state funds. MacManus v. Love, 179 Colo. 218, 499 P.2d 609 (1972).

Taxation is indisputably legislative prerogative. Gates Rubber Co. v. South Sub. Metro. Recreation & Park Dist., 183 Colo. 222, 516 P.2d 436 (1973).

If a change in the state sales and use tax law is desired, it must be accomplished by the general assembly, for neither the director of revenue nor the supreme court is empowered with taxing authority. Weed v. Occhiato, 175 Colo. 509, 488 P.2d 877 (1971).

Only the general assembly has the power to amend laws and enact taxing statutes. Miller Int'l, Inc. v. State Dept. of Rev., 646 P.2d 341 (Colo. 1982).

These last citations are of earlier court rulings.

Anyone who has taken and understood poly sci 101 or American government 101 understands that the legislative branch controls the purse strings. Under our state Constitution, the judicial branch has the authority to determine whether the school finance act is constitutional, whether it provides a thorough and uniform education; they’ve done that before with regard to uniform. I think they will have as much luck defining thorough as courts have had defining pornography. Good luck.

Finally, it is clear that the court cannot tell the legislature how much to spend or how much to tax. If they try that, it would constitute judicial activism and I would be inclined to tell them to go to hell.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

out she goes

I wrote this ten days ago. Not sure that I really want to post it, but I'm going to anyway.

It’s the end of an era and the beginning of a great future.

I got home from a weekend in Leadville watching Lance tear up the LT100 to find a pile of things returned to me from my oldest daughter who cleaned out her room to move to college.

As a side note, we have a clash of parental philosophies at our house. I grew up in a house where the kids’ rooms were kept for them after they moved out. Heck, my room at Dad’s house still has my old high school wrestling paraphernalia hanging on the wall. Kind of like a shrine and I’d say, needing cleaned out, but a room where the kids are supposed to be welcome to come back.

My wife wants the room cleaned out to create a guest room, which we truly need.

The room was cleaned out, of course.

I now have back some wool socks that were worn when we went hunting, some cycling gear and what just crushed me, one of our family campaign shirts. (it’s four years old and doesn’t fit her anyway)

It all seems so final to me. Like it is actually sinking in that this beautiful little girl who I’ve cared so deeply about for almost 19 years is now gone.

I realize that they are never (we hope) completely gone, but dang, I also know that I won’t see her more than a few times a year, possibly, from now on.

Nineteen years, gone in the blink of an eye.

Have you ever listened to that Kenny Chesney song, “There goes my life”? That’s my song right now.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Public Option - a state perspective

With all the talk about a federal “public option” for health insurance, I thought I should give a state government perspective.

We already have a public option and it’s going broke. Medicaid and SCHP are effectively publicly paid health insurance programs for people in Colorado. The federal actuaries tell us that Medicaid will be out of money by 2016. I have news for them; they are already out of money. The feds have a $1.3 trillion deficit and it’s growing.

Medicaid serves, for the most part, the poorest people in Colorado or those that can manage to prove themselves “poor”. You have to find a way to get rid of or hide assets and show income of less than $30,000 for a family of four to qualify for Medicaid for your kids. That same family of four can put their kids on SCHIP, the State Children’s basic Health insurance Program if they make less than $55,000 per year.

In most cases, if you are in, you get to go to the same doctor and you pay a co-pay for an office visit of no more that $3 for Medicaid and no more than $5 for SCHP. Compare that to the full rate we pay for our kids with our high deductible plan and the $30 you’d pay if you were a member of Kaiser, for instance.

There is no premium to pay to be in Medicaid and the annual premium for that family of four in SCHP is $35. That’s annual as in 35 bucks a year!

My insurance costs $1150 a month! I pay $280, my employer (State of Colorado) the rest. The Kaiser plan is $1250.

It’s a wonder that anyone would add their kids to their health insurance plan if they make less than 2.5 times the federal poverty level. As a matter of fact, many people don’t. Almost a quarter of all kids in Colorado are on Medicaid and another 6.6% are in SCHP.

I’d save $30 per month if I dropped the kids off the insurance plan we have and went to SCHP in premium alone and another $300 per month in out of pocket expenses. We qualify but we don’t join; I’m opposed to government run health care, but I wonder how long we can hold out?

Is it any wonder that health care expenses are gobbling up a huge and growing share of Colorado’s budget? How long can we afford to have a system in place that encourages people to seek practically free health insurance and care over a really expensive private system? What happens when everyone who could do so enrolls?
I know the answers. If you are giving things away for free, it doesn’t matter what you are giving away, whether health care or chocolate chip cookies, eventually you run out of supply. Then, you have a real problem.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

socialized medicine vs private insurance

In the debate over socializing health care, there are two fairly credible arguments from my point of view.

One is that this is the US of A and we can do anything, therefore, we can produce a workable government run health care system even though no other country in the world has.

The problem with this argument is that even in this country, you can’t repeal the basic laws of human nature. In this case there is and can be no free lunch. Utopia cannot be achieved where men (and women) are involved. I appreciate this line of thought, but think that it doesn’t mesh with reality.

The other is that our current system is out of control, insurance companies make arbitrary decisions on individual’s health care, and a government run system would be no different; just more efficient. The people making this argument suggest that government can run the system for 3% when the insurance companies get 30%.

This line of thinking takes more deconstructing.

In the short run, I suspect that the proponents of socialized medicine would be proven right. That we, as individuals, wouldn’t notice much of a difference between what we have now and what a socialized system would provide. After all, most people who have insurance just go when they want and rarely ever pay what it really costs to see a doctor. A socialized system would be much the same, initially.

But what would happen when the government finds out that it costs more than they thought? And by the way, this always happens with everything that the government gets involved with. Medicare was supposed to cost $15 billion in year 25, but it ended up exceeding $100 billion.

Soon enough, the government would have to find a way to reduce the cost of the system. They can do it in two ways:
1. Lower the reimbursement rates paid to doctors, pharmacists and other health care providers. This is most likely as it’s what states already do every time there is a budget pinch; just ask the docs and pharmacists in Colorado about reimbursement rates.
2. Reduce the number of services offered to patients. Want cancer treatment for liver cancer – too bad the probability of success is too low we won’t cover it.

Either of these options produces the same results for you and me. We will eventually find ourselves searching for a doctor that will see us or we will be searching for a provider that has set up shop outside of the government system, either here or in another country. This is the experience in Canada and the UK. We’re fools to think it will be different here.

People really want our existing system reformed, but they know that what the Democrats are offering isn’t reform. It’s more of the same, but worse.

If we have to choose between the public option and what we have now, status quo is better, not the best, but better.

What we really need is to introduce true market principles into this area.
1. catastrophic coverage only, with a cap
2. multiple state purchase options for consumers of insurance
3. some more tort reform
4. immigration reform – too many free-loaders

Basically copy what works well in the auto and life insurance models. Both are much more affordable. We don’t buy auto insurance to cover oil changes and new tires. We buy liability and coverage to replace the car if it’s totaled and we buy it as individuals with a real risk analysis based primarily on our claims history.

We have to empower the market to drive costs down and quality up – it works every time it’s tried.

I realize that I have oversimplified some of the arguments but I’m convinced that I’m accurate. This is a complicated subject and it deserves more than a blog post worth of discussion.

Fortunately, as a nation, we are able to have that discussion and the people are participating. Really participating and thinking deeply about this. They are figuring out that while what they have needs to be improved, what Obama, Pelosi and Reed are offering isn’t an improvement.

Hopefully my side can offer some leadership in alternatives and not make a compromise that leads us the long way around the hill to where Obama and Co want to go in the first place.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Fiscal Stability Commission I

We’ve had two sessions of meetings of the Fiscal Stability Commission. The commission was tasked by resolution with finding a long-term fix to the budgetary problems that the state has had this recession and in previous recessions.

I figured after reading the resolution that it was really tasked, read between the lines, with finding an excuse to get rid of TABOR.

It’s hilarious that elected officials have actually said that TABOR caused the financial problem that we have right now! I thought it was caused by a drop in tax revenue which was, in turn, caused by a normal business cycle recession that was exacerbated by a federal government that was run amok guaranteeing loans that couldn’t possibly be repaid. But, what do I know?

The bulk of the testimony during our four days of hearings so far has been from state staff telling us how bad the current situation is and government dependents telling us they have to have more money and we should just raise taxes so that they can get more money.

So far, just about what I expected.

We did have an informative presentation where Charlie Brown, yep, that’s his name, said that our expenditures for education, health care and prisons from the general fund have been growing faster over the last ten years than our incoming revenue has been growing. In other words, our spending is on a collision course with our revenue and we need to do something about it. He also said that he didn’t think the 45% tax increase that it would take to put revenue ahead of expenditures was plausible.

We do have a problem that needs fixed; those on the left want to raise taxes to get more revenue; those of us on the right want to control spending.

This difference is the heart of what separates liberals from conservatives. There is no disagreement about the nature of the problem. We can’t continue on with business as usual for too much longer. How long depends on the economy, but eventually, spending will catch up with available revenue and then the state will be in real trouble. The kind of trouble that California is in right now.

We can avoid that; we should avoid that. The question is: will we do so responsibly by controlling spending or by raising taxes.

I’m in the control spending camp. I firmly believe that raising taxes only delays the problem and, at this time, increases the pain caused by the recession.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

a victory for free speech

The judge hearing the case against Amendment 54 ruled against it again today. In judicial speak, she blasted it.

Good for her.

Here is what I wrote about A-54 last fall:

Amendment 54 No – This is called the Clean Government Amendment, they really should have entitled it the No Free Political Speech for You Amendment. The proponents claim that they want to tackle the real problem of abuse of the sole source government or no bid government contract problem. It is a real problem, and the proponents give excellent examples of serious abuse. The proper solution is to limit the government’s ability to use this type of contract - not to limit the citizens’ right to use their hard-earned money to influence the political process, which is free political speech with money.

I think that A-54 will go down as one of the dumbest amendments ever offered. It's as bad as 41.

Friday, July 10, 2009

rerun of op-ed on Ref C

Since we are right back in a budget "crisis" and I just sat through two days of hearings on long term fiscal stability (more to come on that soon), I thought it would be appropriate to re-post what I wrote in opposition to Ref C in 2005.

Here it is, from the way-back machine of 2005:

I’ll be voting no on Referendum C on November 1st.

It is important to recognize that we have a difficult budget situation in the State of Colorado now. For that matter, it was difficult to balance the State’s budget for all of the three years that I served in the House. Spending expectations have exceeded available revenue every year. Sounds a little like my farm budget, come to think of it.

This gets pretty complicated, but if you read through, I promise to boil it down to something understandable.

The spending expectation for next year is calculated by increasing this year’s spending by 6%. When spending expectations exceed available revenue, we have what is called at the Capitol a “structural deficit”. Mrs. Brophy and I routinely have structural deficits in our household budget, so I understand these things.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights or TABOR is a revenue limiter that was added to the State Constitution in 1992. It allows the state to keep only as much money as was collected the year before (this is the TABOR base) plus an additional amount equal to the increase in state population and the official inflation rate added together. Any time the state collects more in taxes and fees than TABOR allows the state to keep, the money must be refunded to the taxpayers.

Next year, the structural deficit for Colorado will be $492.7 million. At the same time, we will have a TABOR refund of $560.3 million. Over the next five years, the structural deficit is $720.6 million, while the total TABOR refunds will be $3.576 billion, almost five times as much as the structural deficit.

That’s not all, the Gallagher Amendment, the school equalization lawsuit, Medicaid expenditures, and Amendment 23 combine with TABOR and the 6% rule to make budgeting a perpetual challenge for the State of Colorado.

Referendum C asks the voters to allow the state to retain and spend all of the revenue that comes in over the next five years. In other words, the state would keep all of the TABOR refunds that would normally be returned to taxpayers, that’s the $3.576 billion. It also sets the TABOR base for future calculations at the highest point reached in revenue collections during the next five years.

It is really important that readers understand what it means when I say that the highest amount of revenue will establish the new TABOR base. This is the part of Ref C that gives the State an incentive to maximize taxes and fees.

To put it in personal terms, TABOR is like a diet for government, Ref C is a temporary break from the diet and Ref C is written to encourage binge style eating before resuming the diet in five years. The size of government will bloat like a wrestler’s tummy right after the state tournament!

The state will maximize revenue in the easiest possible way. They will increase cash fees to the greatest extent possible and they will likely use the Public Employee Retirement Account deficit as the first of many excuses to increase every fee that they can. Want to pay more to go to a state park, have your scale inspected or maintain your cosmetology license? Vote for C and that is exactly what you’ll get.

By the way, as long as there is a TABOR surplus, cash fees will not be raised. Higher fees just make the refund larger, so it won’t happen.

The principle behind Ref C is that the problem is a lack of money and that there is nothing wrong with the State’s spending formula. That principle is wrong.

Ref C is the State equivalent of a family refinancing their house to pay off their credit cards without cutting up those credit cards. It solves the problem for a while, but eventually the spending will catch back up with you.

We have to address the spending side of this equation while the motivation exists to do it. Think about it, if C passes or you refinance your house, what incentive do you have to address those things that have caused the problem in the first place?

Americans are capable of doing great things, but most of the time, we only act when we absolutely have to take action. We have reached the time to take action to address the six main causes of the budget problem.

I do not know that the State’s budget problem can be solved only through a reduction in spending, but I do know that without the pressure applied by the structural deficit there will be no attempt made to reduce spending or even to reduce the rate of growth in spending, especially when the additional revenue exceeds the structural deficit by a factor of five!

I do know that we can balance next year’s budget without closing the universities and without closing down the State’s parks; the warnings of Chicken Little not withstanding.

Colorado’s taxpayers deserve a better deal, one that addresses the rate of growth of spending in state government, a deal that seeks a long-term solution to the conflicting mandates in spending and revenue retention, and a deal that ultimately only asks the taxpayers for the amount of money that the State absolutely has to have, after the Legislature has truly done everything that can be done to address the way government spends money.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The last day of the session

I’ve spoken about this many times, but have failed to write about it. I thought you’d like to know what the last day of the session was like.

We cast votes on four significant pieces of legislation:

  1. The death penalty
  2. Use of cell phones in cars
  3. Capital gains taxes
  4. Jessica’s law

The day was really a microcosm of the year. The Democrats ignored the will of the people and advanced their agenda of higher taxes, less freedom, and placing the interests of criminals over citizens.

The vote on repealing the death penalty failed by one vote 17-18! It was one of the best debates I have ever heard in the Senate, with real passion and decent points on each side of the debate, but it is hard to overcome the sense of right and wrong in a clear statute that allows for the ultimate penalty in rare cases. What’s also interesting is that while this was essentially a 50-50 issue in the Senate, in the general population it is a 70-30 issue with 70% wanting to retain the death penalty.

The Democrats fired their first of many shots in blatantly increasing taxes by removing a credit on capital gains for Colorado investments. They passed this on the last day of the session. I am sure that they will be coming after more of our hard-earned money in a special session or early next year. The activist State Supreme Court gave them permission and they will increase taxes until they get the money that they want.

It will now be illegal for you to dial your phone while you are driving. That’s right, the cell phone ban applies to “manual data entry” as well as an out and out ban on anyone under the age of 18 using a phone while driving. And it is a primary offense which means the police will be able to pull you over if they see you doing it even if you are doing nothing else wrong. I am convinced that this bill will make a lot of people really mad. I just hope the folks remember that it passed 18-17 with no Republicans voting for it.

Finally, the Democrats stripped Jessica’s Law, or most of it, out of a bill dealing with crimes against children. They should be ashamed, but they aren’t. We really need to pass this law and protect kids from violent sexual predators, but the Dem’s just won’t vote for it.

There you have it; higher taxes, less freedom and less security. I’m glad the session only lasts 120 days.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Judy Sells Cars

I've been shopping for a new pickup for about a year. I kinda like looking at pickups online, but hate wasting the time it takes to actually look at them in real life. I'm cheap and lazy!

I finally found one that fit the bill in Dalton, Nebraska at a place called Judy's Auto.

I spent about 15 minutes with Judy while closing on the pickup and got a brief glimpse into what makes this country great.

Judy started selling cars when she found out, at age 55, that her husband had cancer.

Fourteen years later she is still doing what nobody in Dalton, NE (pop 332) thought she could do: run her own business in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.

Judy exemplifies what makes America great. She shows what can happen when freedom and opportunity are put together: success. When she was faced with a very difficult circumstance, taking care of herself on her own, she rose to the occasion and did it.

So many times, when liberals are trying to make the case for more government welfare programs, they showcase some family in need. You see it in every State of the Union or opening day speech; some liberal politician introduces a person who needs help and suggests that government has the solution.

To be sure, there are people who need help, even in this country where the average poor person is overweight, has two TV's and air conditioning, but there are still a lot more people just like Judy who exercise their freedom in this land of opportunity and build a business from scratch to success.

God bless Judy and America.

Friday, May 8, 2009

More Fun with the ACLU

It seems that the ACLU is really interested in my flippant comments about an ACLUSUX license plate. If you remember I wrote about it at this spot a couple weeks ago.

One of their representatives even wrote me an email to tell me they would defend my right to have such a license plate.

How magnanimous of them.
The Post has picked up the story for further development; probably because the ACLU rep contacted them with notice of their sincere desire to defend my freedom of license plate speech. From the story: "Censorship is censorship, and the ACLU doesn't draw any distinction between speech with which we agree and speech we may not like," spokeswoman Cathryn L. Hazouri said.
I just have to wonder though, if I could fit the 10 Commandments onto a license plate, would the ACLU defend my right to park my car at the state capitol with that plate on it? I suspect the answer is no, as they seem mostly to be interested in defending politically correct or obscene “speech”.

They really should rename themselves the PCACLU.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We end the year

The final votes of the year in the Colorado Senate were on increasing capital gains taxes, abolishing the death penalty, and banning cell phone usage in cars.

Hope this changes soon.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ref C pickle

In baseball, when a runner is caught between two bases he is said to be in a pickle. He can’t decide what base to run to, and he’s usually caught and tagged out.

The Democrats at the State Capitol are in a bit of a pickle themselves now on the budget.

They really want to raise taxes and fees this year, both to shore up baseline program spending and implement new programs, but they know that if they raise too much revenue, they will trigger a lower TABOR revenue cap in the near future.

The TABOR revenue cap sets the amount of money that the state can keep and spend each year.

When Ref C passed in 2005, one of its provisions eliminated the annual resetting of the TABOR revenue cap. During the Ref C timeout period, a new cap was going to be set at the highest level achieved in that period and then future caps would always grow from that newly established high point. Never declining, or ratcheting down, but always growing at inflation plus growth from the highest point reached during the timeout.

That new high point was achieved in 2007-2008 at $10 billion. This year, 2009-2010, the total projected revenue is estimated to come in at $9.65 billion.

If the Democrats raise too many more fees or taxes this year, and the economy recovers a bit by the start of calendar year 2010, the total revenue collected for this year could exceed that $10 billion from 07-08.

If that happens a new revenue cap will be established and the growth will come from the new cap giving up two years of inflation and population growth from the 07-08 cap.

Confusing? Yes, it is, but here’s what it means in dollars. If the new cap is established this year at the old level plus one dollar, in 2010-2011 the revenue cap (which represents how much the state can keep and spend) will be $10.254 billion. If, instead, the old cap is used, the 2010-2011 revenue cap will be $11.313 billion. So if they increase taxes too much this year, they lose the opportunity to spend an extra $1.1 billion next year!

Now that’s a pickle.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

cell phone ban

It’s all about liberty and logical thinking.

HB09-1094 would make it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving unless you use a hands-free device. It also bans texting while driving and, I suppose, sending emails from your crackberry.

Set aside the texting part – yes, I do it, but only on the mostly deserted highways in Eastern Colorado and sometimes while riding my bike.

The banning of cell phone usage is an affront in three ways.

It’s folly to pass a bill that will be summarily ignored by a vast majority of the citizens of the state. Come on, be honest, you will still talk on your phone. And 99% of the time, or more, you will do it responsibly. Liberty cannot be surrendered without careful consideration. Society must benefit greatly from the surrender of liberty and in this case society doesn’t, so it is just an unwanted and unnecessary infringement.
As drafted, it actually makes us less safe. If you agree with the studies that say distracted driving is dangerous, and that using cell phones in particular is bad, you have to also admit that the conversation is the distraction. That’s what those studies show, that the conversation is the distraction. The conversation will be LONGER if you are speaking with a hands-free device than it will be if you are forced to hold the handset to your ear for the whole time. Think about it. For me, having my Bluetooth on makes speaking easy; I will hardly talk on the phone without it, but with it, I can go on for a long time. The longer the conversation means the distraction of the conversation will be longer too, increasing what risk there is.
It’s unnecessary. There are already plenty of laws that can be invoked to address careless or reckless driving (before someone gets hurt) and to affix blame after the accident. Singling out one type of distraction, cell phones, over all the others, food, kids, scenery, etc. is just a bad idea.

The question is, will the Senate pass the bill on emotion (someone died) or defeat the bill on logic?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Freight Law Improvement


After almost seven years in the legislature, I’m about to pass a bill that implements about half of what I tried to do in 2003.

It’s related to trucking and really benefits farmers and ranchers.

Back in ’03 when I was a freshman in the House, I introduced a bill that sought to modernize freight rules in Colorado, allowing multiple axle combinations and harvest permits for agriculture. I had cut corn in Nebraska and knew that their freight laws were better than ours.

It seemed like a great idea to me, but the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) hated it.

The reason why they didn’t like the idea boils down to, in my opinion: they don’t like to be told what to do. No, really, that’s it. And if you think they are bad, you should take on the Division of Wildlife – now those guys are serious about their bureaucracy.

HB09-1318 by Sonnenberg, Brophy and Shaffer will allow people to haul divisible loads, like corn, wheat or cattle, that weigh more than what is currently legal if they get a permit and stay off of certain bridges. It also allows triple axle trailers to be used for these same “harvest” permits.

The bill makes it cheaper to haul products in Colorado. On a farm, ranch or feedlot, that could mean the difference between profitability and losses.

Score one for the good guys.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Budget Update April 26th, 2009

For the first time since I have been at the Capitol, the General Assembly passed a budget that wasn’t balanced.

It is a work of fiction or prayer and since the folks in charge don’t seem to be the prayerful type if you know what I mean, it must be fiction.

The Pinnacol seizure fell through. There aren’t many significant cuts to anything except higher education, and the budget is still a couple hundred million dollars out of balance.

The plan is to pass a whole passel of bill that raise taxes, institute some transfer gimmicks and use some of the stimulus money to fill in the $200 million gap.

The tax increases, besides the senior homestead property tax exemption, are elimination of sales tax exemptions that are in place for cigarettes and vending machine sales.

The cigarette tax is expected to yield $30 million and the vending machine tax $8.7 million.

I doubt that the cigarette tax increase will result in the full $30 million being collected because the Feds also raised cigarette taxes and they have reached level where people will either cut back or buy on the “gray” market – cigarettes from places with low or no taxes. People make rational choices like that all the time.

The vending machine tax will likely be eaten by the folks who have those machines as it is hard to increase a vending machine coke by three cents, or maybe they will raise the price by a quarter and see if the market will bear it.

No matter what, this saga is far from finished as the fiscal year is just starting. I expect further bad news and our reserves are too low to withstand another $200 million reduction in state revenue.

Can you say special session?

Friday, April 24, 2009

ACLU license plates

A very funny story ran in the Post a couple weeks ago where the Department of Revenue (DOR) decided to deny a personalized license plate to a lady from Parker.

Apparently the lady really likes tofu instead of real food so she tried to get a license plate that said she loves tofu – ILVTOFU.

The dirty minded guys at the DOR, namely my friend Marc Chair (fictional name) decided to deny the plate because they never let a plate go with the letter F and the letter U in order.

There are a ton of letter combinations that they won’t allow and the list grows as more people create clever ways to say things for text messages for instance.

But now it’s reported that the ACLU has decided that they might have to take on the DOR over the tofu license plate!

Yes, the same ACLU that goes all over the country trying to find the Ten Commandments in a public place so they can insist that the Ten Commandments be taken down are about to argue that FU should be allowed on license plates in Colorado.

How about this plate: ACLUSUX, or maybe one that puts the new letters F and U on a plate with ACLU?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Second Amendment advance

A small step forward for the Second Amendment.

HB09-1180, if passed, will simply allow a person who has a conceal carry weapons permit (CCW) to skip the, so-called, instant background check when he or she decides to buy a gun from a licensed firearms dealer.

Think of it as getting pre-approval.

The rigorous background check that a CCW permit applicant goes through by far exceeds what happens with the current “instant” check. You submit your fingerprints and wait for six to twelve weeks while your background is thoroughly explored.

As a side bar, the whole process is offensive to me. When has limiting the constitutionally protected right of a law abiding citizen ever kept a criminal from doing something evil? Can you imagine the howling if any other God-given and constitutionally protected right was so limited by government? Try making a newspaper editor, reporter or publisher pass a background check before distribution. That would go over really well.

I always put “instant” in quotes because the current system used in Colorado for background checks is anything but instant. In some cases the wait for approval has exceeded 24 hours! In a lot of cases, the wait extends to four hours or more. That is completely unacceptable and this bill will help significantly in reducing those waits by allowing some people to get approved in advance.

I also think it will encourage more people to apply for a CCW permit. And I think that will make criminals think more than twice about some of their activities in Colorado.

All in all, it’s good for law-abiding citizens and good for our state.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


There is a bill going through the legislature this year that will force the Denver Public School Retirement System (DPSRS) to merge with Colorado’s Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA).

In the past, the legislation that has been passed just encouraged the two groups to merge. The last such legislation passed in 2008, but the two entities couldn’t come to an agreement on a merger, so this year the legislation just directs them to merge and designs the merger.

I guess the Colorado General Assembly knows best.

The hearing for the bill came through Finance Committee, lasted three hours, and had no testimony against the bill.

As a side bar, it is not at all uncommon for bills in finance to only have testimony in favor. A study a few years ago found that 95% of those testifying in Finance supported the bills. I think that’s a classic example of concentrated vs diffused interests. The concentrated interests always show up, after all, that’s how they get paid.

The fix is in on the bill and it is going to pass, but I voted against it.

I am positive that before ten more years go by, the taxpayers of the State of Colorado are going to have to pick up the tab for the unfunded liability that DPSRS has. It may not even be that long. The liability that the state already has for PERA is bad enough; adding to it is folly.

The other significant attraction for DPSRS is the ability to shift the blame for any future benefit cuts to those dirty rascals at the Capitol. It became apparent during the testimony that this is a significant benefit being sought by the folks from DPS. They know that benefits will have to be cut; they want to be able to blame someone else for it. “There are strength in numbers,” one witness said during testimony. I guess so.

At some point the Piper is going to have to be paid for these defined benefit retirement plans. Guess who gets to pay the Piper?

For the record, I signed up under the defined contribution plan that the State offers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Denver Tea Party

I think there were 5000 or more people at the Capitol for the Tea Party on Wednesday.

It was exceptionally cool for the second time in a week to see actual working people show up and show an interest in what is happening in state government.

Someone left a teabag under the wiper of my car! It’s pretty funny because I drive a Prius, plus I have a Share the Road license plate on the car. No doubt, the protesters assumed that the car belonged to some liberal from Boulder.

If they only knew.

I was appalled by the coverage of the left-stream media of the various tea parties around the country. It appears to be increasingly difficult for them to maintain even a semblance of impartiality.

I did learn a new definition for a common phrase though.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Budget - my prediction

Now that the budget has passed the Senate, I’m going to make a prediction for how this will come to a conclusion.

I don’t think that the Democrats are going to be willing to use their Supreme Court “hall pass” to thwart the Constitution again so soon. It’s a pretty big risk and four of the seven justices are up for retention vote in 2010; even they have to be aware of that fact.

The Pinnacol raid will turn into a loan. It’s really the only way to ensure that the Democrats can actually get their hands on the cash for sure this year. The Democrats will pay back the loan through increased taxes – the Supreme Court gave them the green light in the mil levy freeze case to take away any tax credit on the books.

So let’s take a look at where they can go to get the money:
food bought at the grocery stores
cigarette sales
agriculture equipment sales
Internet access
livestock sales

The list goes on and on. In total, there are 81 different tax exemptions or credits that the majority party can go after totaling almost $2 billion.

That’s my prediction; we’ll see soon enough if I am right.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Budget

The Colorado Senate will pass a budget on Monday.

For the first time in my memory, it will be a pure work of fiction.

Colorado’s Constitution requires a balanced budget for each year. This one will be balanced by taking money $500 million from an insurance company. Money that will never show up because the insurance company won’t just hand the loot over.

I won’t bug you with all the details of the budget. It’s really a mess with Constitutionally mandated spending increase requirements in some areas, Constitutionally protected revenues in other areas and everyone wanting more.

The key take away is this: the money from the insurance company (Pinnacol Assurance) is never going to materialize. They aren’t just going to hand it over and I don’t think the court will let the state take it. Ultimately, we’ll have to come back and balance the budget again and this time truly hard choices will have to be made.

The immediate fall back provision is to cut colleges by another $300 million. That’s on top of the $100 million reduction in the rate of growth that they’ve already taken. A $300 million dollar cut would be a real cut and would probably lead to the closure of several schools. That’s completely unacceptable; we offered rational alternatives, but the other side turned them down.

This won’t be over for a while.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pinnacol raid

Here’s the problem: state revenues are down, expectations for state spending are up (sounds like my family budget situation too).

So what are we going to do? Rob a bank? No, lets seize the money in an insurance company’s accounts, after all it looks like the insurance company, Pinnacol Assurance has more assets than liabilities.

Pinnacol is a workers compensation insurance company that was originally created by the state and then finally turned loose in 2002. At the time, their liabilities exceeded their assets by about $200 million. Now, their assets exceed their liabilities by about $600 million.

They are paying big dividends and have cut premiums by 42% over the past four years.

So the Democrats in Colorado (and two Republicans) have decided to take their “extra” money. That’ll teach them for being successful.

Two other states have tried the same thing in very similar situations and the courts in those states have sided with the insurance company. No telling what our activist Supreme Court will do, but I am positive the insurance company won’t just write the check because the Governor signs the bill that steals their money.

Expect a long protracted battle so ensue. The majority party has no plan for dealing with the defeat, except to close have of the colleges in the state.

I expected more from them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Wednesday the Democrats in the Senate, in particular, Senators Romer and Tapia, pulled a fast one.

It was April Fool’s Day, but this was no joke.

They found out that a key Republican Senator, Ted Harvey, had to be out of town Tuesday through Thursday to help move his Father-in-law who has Alzheimer’s to Colorado from another state.

So on Tuesday, they changed the Senate calendar of business and moved the bill that grants in-state tuition to illegal aliens (SB09-170) up to Wednesday from Friday. They knew that with Harvey present, their normal 6-4 advantage would not help them, because one Democrat was committed to vote against the bill setting up a loss on a 5-5 tie vote.

The solution was to run the bill when Harvey was gone and pass it 5-4 which they did.

Hats off to them for the brilliant move taking advantage of an opponent’s absence. It’s underhanded and it makes everyone mad, but it’s a smart use of the circumstances and the system to achieve a goal.

Or is it?

This issue, granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens, is opposed by 80% of the people in some polls. In no poll is the opposition less than 68%. In other words, no one likes this. And now, everyone in the Senate is going to have to vote on the bill.

Senators are going to have to prove that they are either with the 80% or against them. It will be interesting to see if an 80-20 issue to real Coloradoans becomes a 40-60 issue in the Colorado Senate.

We’ll see if only 40% of the Colorado Senate agrees with 80% of the citizens of the state. Given their history of blatant disregard for the will of the people, I expect them to pass it.

Blatant Disregard

We see another attempt by the Democrats to exert their will over the will of the people in HB09-1299.

It’s a bill that would lead to tossing out the electoral vote for President in return for a national popular vote.

It’s not that it would happen overnight. First more states would have to pass a similar bill; enough states to reach the magic number of 270 electoral votes have to pass bills to join the movement for it to go into effect.

So far four states have passed bills enacting this agreement into law. Colorado is poised to become a fifth.

I’m not sure if the Democrats are still sore about the 2000 election or what.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone in Colorado would throw away our swing-state status in favor of a national popular vote. Right now, Presidential candidates come to Colorado because there is some question where our nine electoral votes will go and through most of the election cycle, you can draw a scenario where our nine will make the difference in determining who will win.

Take away our nine and no one will care about our votes; no one will come here to campaign. The candidates will stick to the major population centers on the coasts and ignore “fly-over country”.

It’s really a horrible idea that has so many unintended consequences that everyone on the left seems to ignore.

Just like they ignore the will of the voters. In 2004 Coloradoans roundly rejected a change to our electoral college system 66-34.

That’s the blatant disregard.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Didn't get the memo

Today the Colorado Senate passed a global warming joint resolution. It’s titled “Concerning Recognition of Colorado’s Cool Cities”, but it was really an Al Gore would be proud sop to carbon dioxide caused global warming.

As a side bar, I think Wray, Colorado (my home town) is the “coolest city” in the state. We have our own little stream running through town, nice hills and bluffs surrounding town, a couple of good places to eat, a nice swimming pool and the best coffee shop on the planet.

Back to the farce: Senator Rollie Heath from, you guessed it, Boulder, introduced the resolution.

Apparently he missed the memo from the eco-commies who changed the term “global warming” to “climate change” when it became apparent that while CO2 emissions continue to rise, global temperatures are going down. They have been for ten years.

Senators Renfroe and Lundberg had fun pointing out the facts about global warming. Senator Heath said, “I don’t want to get into an argument about global warming”.

At that point I went up and pointed out that he should at least make the case for his resolution, but I’d be voting against it because “anthropogenic global warming is a farce”.

End of debate: the resolution passed on a straight party line vote.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


It’s just shameless.

The Colorado General Assembly seeks to increase fees on hospitals by almost $1 million per day rising to nearly $2 million per day in just three years.

The 33 small hospitals in the state start out paying $203,886 per year; the large ones will pay $14,129,302 per year. The total collected will be $336,411,944 in the first year. In the final year, 2012, full implementation of all the fees will raise $629,365,211!

And the hospitals are strongly in favor of this.

Why? Because the fee increase will be leveraged to collect additional federal funds of $209,743,600 in the first year and $508,827,172 in the final year of implementation and growing every year after that, forever.

Or maybe not. Did anyone notice that the federal government is broke? They are going to have a $1.8 Trillion deficit this year and even with the rosiest projections available, will have a $1 Trillion deficit every year for the next ten years. And that’s rosy? The real answer is that they are broke and at some point this fantasy of having Uncle Obama pay for everything will end.

And then what?

Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll go back to funding only those things that government absolutely has to fund.

Back to the hospital fee and bait and switch. The hospitals pay in one dollar and they get back one dollar and fifty eight cents. Easy to see why the hospitals think it is a good idea. They’ll get the money in increased rates paid to them and in a significant increase in the number of Medicaid patients, about 158,000 total additional people when fully implemented.

It amounts to a $1 billion a year expansion into socialized medicine.
It’s HB09-1293 and it is unconscionable.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Top Ten Worst Bills of the Session

The session is a little over the half way point and I have finished my top ten list of dumbest bills of the year. There may be more to come, but for now here’s the list with humorous bills at the top and exceptionally bad bills at the bottom.

1. The Plastic Bag Reduction Act -- that’s right a law to ban the use of plastic bags in grocery stores. Of course the stores would then switch to paper bags which fill up landfills at three times the rate plastic bags do. No doubt someone tried to ban the use of paper bags thirty years ago to save trees.
2. The Cat Identification Law for Cities – someone cares so much about fluffy that they wanted a law requiring micro chips in cats. Really.
3. Protect Public Safety Control Coyotes – this was a bill that would have required the Division of Wildlife to make controlling coyotes in cities their top priority. To really understand this you have to pronounce coyotes like the cities folks do: kie-oh-tees. At least these kie-oh-tees will be easy to find after all the city kitties have micro chips in them.
4. Utilities Disclose Carbon Footprint bill – this year’s global warming bill. Now, you too, can be like Al Gore and buy your own carbon offsets.
5. Require Physical Activities in Schools – the mandatory recess bill. Do you think we could apply this to legislators? Ever noticed the condition of most lawmakers?
6. Ban Use of Cell Phones While Driving – no word when the ban on coffee, cheeseburgers, IPods, farding, or kids in the car will be offered.
7. Mandatory Parental Leave – not making the parents go anywhere, just telling businesses that they have to allow parents time off to attend school activities.
8. In-state Tuition of Illegal Aliens – legislating by compassion instead of principle
9. The Car Tax – a quarter of a billion dollar tax increase during a recession. The Governor calls it FASTER. I call it pulling a fast one.
10. Flexibility to Use State Revenues – this is the worst fiscal policy ever introduced in Colorado. The bill will remove state spending caps so entitlement spending can grow unchecked during prosperous times leading to a fiscal train wreck during times of recession. This sets up Colorado for the same type of budgetary problems that California is currently experiencing.

Some of these bills have already been dispatched to the paper shredder in the sky, but the Car Tax has been signed into law. Numbers 8 and 10 have come out of committee in the Senate and are awaiting final Senate passage.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Daylight Savings Time

I’m tired.

It always happens at this “switching” time of the year. We lose an hour of sleep on Saturday night and feel the effects until the next weekend.

I actually have come to love Daylight Savings Time (DST). It gives me more time in the evening to do stuff I want to do.

Back when I was farming full time, DST just meant that I got home an hour later. It was challenging to stay on task and remember that the kid’s program was about to start. Dairy farmers really don’t like it because cows expect to be milked at the same time of the day everyday and are less than supportive of our clock manipulations.

The research team at the Capitol has written an interesting memo on DST: Colorado could choose to stay on standard time year around if we wanted, but we could only stay on DST year around with permission of the US Congress.

Arizona is the only state to take the pass on DST.

I’d prefer to stay on DST year around. Yes, it would make sunrise happen really late in December and January, but who cares, nothing good happens early in those months anyway.

I live on the far eastern edge of the Mountain Time Zone. It is 10 miles to the Central Time zone in Kansas; a little further in Nebraska. The clock is cruel to me no matter what. I have often called my brother who lives across the state and found that he was still out working when it was completely dark at my house.

In Wray, we’d be stuck on the fringes either way; I’d choose DST year around.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fiscal Train Wreck

The Colorado Senate is poised to pass SB09-228 by John Morse (D-Colorado Springs). It is the worst fiscal bill I’ve seen in my career, probably the worst ever.

What it will do is remove the spending cap on state government that has been in place since 1977. The spending cap covers mostly entitlement programs and was lowered from 7% to 6% in 1991.

The cap is currently called Arveschoug – Bird, after the sponsors of the bill that lowered the limit in 1991.

Having a cap has kept the state from growing programs too fast during times of high revenue by shifting any money that comes in over the 6% cap into highway and building construction. In times of low revenue, the highway and building construction is the first cut out, leaving less, and sometimes none to be cut from programs.

The limit has kept Colorado out problems like the fiscal train wreck that California had this year. California was $42 billion short in a $140 billion budget. Colorado was about $600 million short in a $18.5 billion budget. California has a huge problem, Colorado has to make a few cuts in the rate of growth, not real cuts, just a cut in the rate of growth.

I’d much rather have our situation than theirs.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Marriage Tax

Senator Tax Morse is back raising taxes and calling them fees by this time taxing marriage.

The current charge for a marriage license is $10. Seven dollars goes the local county clerk for handling the transaction and the other three dollars is spent on state record keeping of the data.

That’s just what a government fee is supposed to do, cover the cost of administering the program.

Along comes Senator Morse with a strong desire to find a way to fund domestic violence programs in the state, so what does he do? Increase the fee on a marriage license from $10 to $30 and convert that additional twenty bucks into domestic violence funding.

Never mind that married couples are three times less likely to have domestic violence issues. Never mind that fees are supposed to be related to the cost of the program. He just wants the money.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another Car Tax

Senator Morse (D-Colorado Springs) added an additional buck to each car registration for a grant program for emergency services.

Of course, administering the grant program will require three brand new state employees. Take a look at the fiscal note for SB09-002. You can see that this grant program already exists and has about $2.9 million available each year, but adding another $4.9 million to it will require more state employees. Why can’t the existing employees dole out the money? This can’t be that hard; I’m absolutely positive that existing staff can write more checks.

The additional new employees isn’t the only insulting part of the tax (fee) increase. Only 11% of emergency service calls go to car wrecks. Eleven percent. Eighty nine percent of the time our car registration will be subsidizing other emergency services.

Will this ever end?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Paper or Plastic

We killed the Plastic Bag Reduction Act on Tuesday.

The bill would have taxed plastic bags at grocery stores and other large stores six cents each bag for the next three years and then banned the plastic bags altogether in 2012.

I know, don’t we have more important things to do? Well, yes, but Senator Veiga introduced the bill and under our Constitution, it had to have a hearing.

The background story is this: the idea was brought by a bunch of high school kids who have been brain washed about the importance of saving the environment from humans since grade school. So they decided to rid the earth of the scourge of plastic bags.

The problem is that the alternative of convenience, for those times when folks forget to bring their canvas bags is paper and paper actually fills up land fills three times faster than plastic bags, plus bringing the paper bags to the stores takes three times as many trucks!

Talk about unintended consequences.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Negative Supplementals

Last week in the Senate we passed 37 budget balancing bills to address this year’s $600 million revenue shortfall.

Now remember, we have a budget that runs in the $18 billion dollar range so let’s keep $600 million in perspective.

Most of the bills reduced expenditures in 20 or so departments of state government. For instance, the Agriculture Department took a reduction of $470,000 and the Department of Higher Education took a reduction of $30 million.

The big fights came over a bill that converted cash reserves to general fund and a bill that reduced the reserve account from about $300 million to $150 million.

The cash fund conversion is from specific fees and taxes like the workers compensation cash fund or severance tax fund to general fund where it can be spent on anything. It’s kind of like raiding all your savings accounts to pay your monthly bills. In total, it amounted to $236 million. I voted against it because I think we should be reducing spending, not propping it up like this.

We do need to recognize that during the last recession, the GOP led legislature did the same thing. I voted against it then too.

I also voted against the bill that reduced the reserve account which lets the Legislature spend that $150 million to backfill against lost revenue. It’s what the reserve account should be used for, but I think it would be a lot smarter to hold onto that money until next year, because I think we may need it.

Finally, the federal “stimulus” bill will send several hundred million to Colorado to be used to prop up Medicaid expenditures and education expenditures. It’s truly a shame that we will wrack up huge debt for our children and grandchildren to prop up mostly social spending today.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Car Tax IV

The Car Tax has passed the House Transportation and Appropriations Committees with only minor changes. It will now go to the floor of the House for final passage.

So far, no Republican has voted for the bill. You can see the vote from House Approps here, and the vote from House Trans here. In the Senate two Democrats voted against the bill.

I flipped through the committee reports from the House. The changes look like minor stuff related to ride sharing cars being charged as regular owned cars instead of rental cars which get slapped with and extra $2 a day charge and exemptions to the car tax for some collectors’ cars.

Rumor has it that the leaders of the Democrat House and Senate have secured enough votes to have the car tax bill pass the House. If they are right, the only way to stop this bill is to contact the Governor and ask him to veto the bill.

I do not think there is any way that Governor Ritter will veto this as it is really his idea, but it is worth a try; he’s been inconsistent in the past.

Contact his office by calling 303.866.2471 or email him through this link.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Technology Gap

We had a bit of a tussle over the use of computers on the floor of the Colorado Senate yesterday.

You can read the Lyn Bartels’ story in the Rocky about it for all the information. But the bottom line is that the Democrats thought we were being fed questions to ask one of their weak members by an outsider. We weren’t; we are capable of thinking on our own.

Either way, I can’t understand why using the tools of modern technology upsets the Democrats in the Senate so much. Do they want us to go back to pencils and paper? I’d hate to do without Google for finding information on the quick and I’d rather search on my computer for a bill than rifle through my file cabinet.

I’m afraid that there is going to be an attempt force us to shut our computers off for the period that we are engaged in third reading and our final votes on bills. I hope not, because the rules are clear, we can have our computers on, but have to disconnect them from the Internet.

Here’s what the rules say:
(b) (1) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) (2) of this
rule, all wireless electronic devices including, but not limited
to telephone and such other communication devices used for
transmitting and receiving voice or data communications,
including but not limited to electronic mail and text
messaging, shall be rendered inoperable in the Senate
chambers, in the hearings of Senate committees, in Senate
party caucuses, or in any other official meetings of Senate
members held in the Capitol or the Legislative Services
(2) Laptop or notebook personal computers may be used in the
Senate chambers, in the hearings of Senate committees, in
Senate party caucuses, or in any other official meetings of
Senate members held in the Capitol or the Legislative
Services Building; however, during the third reading of bills
in the Senate chambers, laptop or notebook personal
computers shall be rendered inoperable for the purpose of
transmitting and receiving voice or data communications, including but not limited to electronic mail and text
(3) Wireless telephones and audible pagers or similar electronic
devices shall not be used in the Senate chambers or in the
gallery of the Senate chambers.

I certainly hope that we can have a bi-partisan solution to solving the Senate technology gap. We really should do away with these rules and come into the 21st Century.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Car Tax III

Governor Ritter’s car tax, called FASTER, is stalled in the Colorado House.

I do not believe that any of the House Republicans are planning to vote for it, and I keep hearing that many of the House Dems are opposed too.

Think about it, the Dems from Adams County for instance, are in a tough spot; their completely Democrat Board of County Commissioners voted to oppose the plan. Ref C failed in Adams County in 2005. Senator Lois Tochtrop from Adams County already voted against FASTER in the Senate.

I wouldn’t want to go to a town meeting up there and explain how a quarter of a billion dollar tax increase during a recession is a good idea.

We’ll see if the Governor has the ability to exercise some political leadership to force his plan through the completely Democrat controlled Colorado House where there are 37 Democrats and 28 Republicans. It takes 33 to pass a bill.

This is like our own little local version of Obama’s effort to pass the stimulus.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Car Tax II

It is interesting that SB108 is being held out as economic stimulus and job producing or job protecting.

It isn’t either in reality.

The federal infrastructure stimulus package requires that the money be spent on “shovel ready” projects. If you don’t have shovel ready projects, you don’t get the federal money.

Now, remember that the federal money is actually just borrowed from our kids and grandkids; we have to pay it back some day.

If SB108 money is actually used now to build roads and bridges and keep those workers employed, it has to be used on “shovel ready” projects.

So if we use SB108 money we can’t use the federal money; we have to turn it back. Our kids and grandkids will be saddled with the federal debt for nothing and our state taxes will have gone up.

What a ridiculous idea.

SB108 isn’t job creating; it isn’t economic stimulus; it is a massive tax increase on citizens during a recession, the worst recession in three decades.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Car Tax SB108

Blog Post Car Tax

The Democrats are proposing a series of fee increases to raise revenue (taxes) for transportation in Colorado this year.

The plan includes registration fee increases, a new tolling authority, an effort to institute a charge for how many miles you drive, called a MBR or mileage base revenue, and an additional two dollars per day on each rental car rented in Colorado.

The tolling would be allowed anywhere the local governments wanted tolling to be allowed. The MBR is designed to become a new way to raise money for roads in the future. The big hit right now is the registration increase which will be $41 to $51 for most cars every year.

Yes, we need to spend more on our roads. I’ve offered many ways to do that without raising taxes.

I just can’t believe that anyone would think that it is okay to raise taxes (fees) by $260 million a year during a recession.

Haven’t they studied the Great Depression? Does anyone understand basic economics?

This is easy to grasp: when you have lost your job, you don’t start a major renovation project on your house. You fix what you absolutely have to fix, but you concentrate on the really important stuff, like feeding the kids and paying the light bill. Eventually you’ll get back on your feet and can start tackling the big projects.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

We will come out of this recession sooner or later; I hope sooner.

Then we will have increasing revenue and we need to properly prioritize it so that our infrastructure is taken care of.

Monday, February 2, 2009

dualing resolutions

We heard two resolutions today on the floor of the Colorado Senate.

The first SR09-008 by Senator Newell recognized a season of non-violence. It was mostly a feel-good waste of time for the “give peace a chance” crowd.

I voted for it, heck, I’ll give peace a chance. There were a handful of Republicans who voted against it, though. For my part, I like peace. I don’t really care whether you leave me alone because you are a benevolent person or you know that I will answer your violence with even greater force, as long as you leave me alone. Seems like a workable system.

Then we heard a fairly vanilla resolution, SR09-009 by Senator Foster supporting Israel in the current struggle with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It clearly stated our support for Israel, but also lamented the loss of life on both sides, without blaming Hamas for launching missiles from schools and hospitals.

I see this issue as black and white; Israel is right and should have our support in stopping the rockets that rain down on innocent civilians in the area around Gaza.

I made a few comments about the nature of this battle as one, not over territory, but over the very existence of the only freedom-loving nation in that part of the world. A few others made similar comments and we voted.

Senator “give peace a chance” Newell and one other voted against the resolution supporting Israel.

So I used a parliamentary procedure to bring Newell’s resolution up so that I could run an amendment to it to ask that a copy of the Season of Nonviolence resolution be sent to Hamas.

Senator Newell and all of the Democrats voted against that.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Full strength beer sales in grocery stores

On occasion, there are bills that come up which represent a clear choice between right and wrong, good and evil.

This is not one of those cases. Tweaking the State’s liquor laws is really just a fight in the Capitol for market share on Main Street. The existing system is convoluted to be sure, and with the exception of last year’s bill to allow sales of alcohol on Sunday by liquor stores, very stable.

While this isn’t a clear case of right vs. wrong, I do think that the argument does represent a case where one side is marginally more right than the other. In this case I place the value on the scale of right and wrong at 65 to 35 in favor of the liquor stores over the convenience stores and grocery stores.

To fully understand the issue, you need to understand some background information.

Under current law, grocery stores and convenience stores can only sell beer and some other drinks where the alcohol content is 3.2% by volume or less. This has been the case for many decades. Until last year, they had an absolute monopoly on alcohol sales for carryout on Sundays. Of course, they can also sell all kinds of other items including gasoline – just envision a Super Wal-Mart and you get the picture.

Liquor stores operate under a completely different set of rules. An individual, and no corporation, can get a liquor license to sell in only one location. That’s why you don’t see chain liquor stores in Colorado. The only way around that is where you see a couple where one person has a license to sell for one location and the other in another location. You occasionally see a grocery store with a full liquor license; they can obtain that license if they have a pharmacy in store and get a combo pharmacy/liquor license.

Are you confused yet?

There are plenty of examples of smart people working their way around this problem of licensing.

I guess it is an example of what you get when you allow government to write the rules and interfere with the market down the minutia of who can sell what. This is proof that socialism is a bad idea.

But here is the kicker:

Real people risked their hard earned money and time to start a business under a given set of rules established by the government.

If the government changes those rules and that change eliminates the investment of those real people, government would be making a mistake.

To be fair to the convenience store and grocery store owners, last year’s change to allow Sunday sales of all liquor in liquor stores did hurt their business in a trade off for convenience for consumers. No one can ignore that, but it pales in comparison to the damage that would be done to liquor stores by the change to allow sales in 7-11 and Safeway. That’s why I place the balance of the scales at 65-35.

Dang it, it is hard to unwind socialism, which is why we should resist any other move in that direction.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Import Gitmo Terrorists?

Governor Ritter thinks it is an acceptable idea to bring terrorists and battlefield combatants currently heal at Guantanamo Bay to the Super Max prison in Colorado.

What an incredibly stupid thing to suggest, there is no gentle way to put this.

I just finished reading Mark Steyn’s “America Alone” where he lays out in great detail the threat to freedom and our modern society posed by the spread of Islam as practiced by Osama bin Laden and his buddies in the Wahhabi sect.

It’s a great book and you should read it so you can understand how supposedly free countries in Europe and elsewhere are gradually creeping toward sharia law.

One of the points that stood out clearly in the book is the risk of conversion of our criminals in prison to this form of Islam.

How dangerous is it for a person who looks like they fit right in in America and who has already exhibited enough anti-social behavior to end up in prison converted to a religion that encourages them to kill non-believers?

How many converts would we see in a prison located right here in Colorado if this move is allowed?

Even the term limited leftist Governor Sebelius of Kansas said “hell no” to moving the Gitmo prisoners to her state and she has an actual military prison.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Today in the Senate we honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a resolution and some speeches. The President, Peter Groff, gave his customary eloquent speech about the advances this country has made over the years because of people like King. Peter is a great man in every sense of the word. He happens to be black, the only American of African descent in the Senate and our leader.

The day was stolen, though, by Senator Dave Schultheis from Colorado Springs, another great man, who along with Senators Renfroe, Harvey, and Lundberg, delivered a series of speeches that highlighted the role of faith in King’s life and of faith in the greater struggle for freedom against tyranny, especially the tyranny embodied by slavery.

Schultheis’ work was brilliant.

You can read it for yourself, and you should, here: http://www.daveschultheis.com/Files/MLK2_Revised_.pdf

In other news, the Governor unveiled, almost, a plan to raise taxes to pay for roads and bridges in Colorado.

I say almost, because we haven’t really seen the bill, just some proposed fee increases and a hint that a vehicle miles travelled pilot program will be established.

The fees start with an increase of $29 as a minimum and go up from there to around $60 based on the weight of the vehicle, so farm trucks, even those that only see service in July or October, get whacked like they are part of the transportation problem. Motorcycles get a $29 increase too.

The vehicle miles travelled (VMT) tax is supposed to be tried as a pilot. I suggested that since the Democrat Governor likes this so well, it should be a pilot program in Denver and Boulder where all the Democrats live. Seems like a good way to try it to me.

I suppose that VMT could work if we figure out how to adjust for: out of state driving, out of state drivers driving here, the difference between rural and urban needs (i.e. the urban areas are the expensive areas), and one of the big ones, privacy.

Like I said, let’s try it out on Democrats first and see how they like it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Colorado is, like every other state, short of money compared to what we thought we would have for this year and next year. It happens, and we'll balance the budget one way or the other.

What do you suppose, though, will be the most controversial bills of the year?

By controversial, I mean, what bill proposals will drive stories in the papers, on the radio and on TV.

Two stand out right now as barn burners:

1. banning cell phone usage while driving - or some derivation there of.
2. allowing full strength beer to be sold in convenience stores and grocery stores.

What else will we see? Something on guns, unions, or same-sex marriage.

I'll try to write on all of them as we move forward.

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