Years ago, state legislator Ken Chlouber gave an eager aspirant to local office some tart words of advice. The candidate had bored Chlouber for 15 minutes as he described his brilliant and innovative plans for his city’s future, until Chlouber finally spoke.
“Well, all those plans and ideas are fine,” he said, “but if you don’t ‘git’ elected, then you don’t ‘git’ to govern.”
It’s Wednesday morning and the party’s over. The losers slink home, the winners “git” to govern. They’ll have to pivot away from campaign hyperbole and focus on real issues.
So congratulations, and welcome back to the reality-based community.
Here you are: Governing 101
You’ll have to deal with dozens of lobbyists, listen to the concerns of your constituents and city/county elected officials, kowtow to the grandees of your party, reach out to members of the other party and find some bills to sponsor and/or support.
Here are some suggestions, gleaned from local business sources.
• Repeal or amend the 2005 Colorado condominium construction defects law. The initial legislation was intended to protect homeowners from shoddy construction, especially from problems that might not be immediately apparent to buyers and their agents.
Where real construction defects exist, the law has been a useful tool for homeowners and homeowners associations. But it didn’t take long for a few ingenious scammers to figure out how to game the law.
Here’s how it works: A straw buyer, quietly funded by one of several law firms who specialize in this kind of stuff, acquires a unit in a targeted complex. The new owner “discovers” multiple construction defects, and demands that the condo homeowners’ association authorize a lawsuit against the builder.
If the officers of the HOA decline to do so, the sponsoring firm threatens to sue them individually. If they back down and authorize the suit, every unit in the targeted complex becomes virtually unsaleable. Facing years of litigation, the HOA and the builder make a deal. The insurance companies pay up and the attorneys pocket a nice fee.
Predictably, builders are now reluctant to build condos. Last week, the Denver Post reported that “the most recent figures show condos represented only 4.6 percent of the total new home starts in metro Denver, compared to 26 percent in 2008.”
In the current market environment of low interest rates and high demand from both empty-nesters and young professionals, there’s no reason to keep the current state law on the books.
• Restructure marijuana taxation, and close the medical loophole. Colorado cannot simultaneously be the healthiest state in America and one with more than 100,000 young adults who suffer from intractable pain, nausea or anxiety for which they must have access to medical marijuana.
As the New York Times reported last week, disparate tax rates between the medical and retail marijuana have created a new marijuana black market, thereby empowering a new generation of college dope dealers.
• General regulatory reform. Choose any one of many business-unfriendly regulations, and see whether you can figure out how to get rid of it, or at least smooth its rough edges. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, “Small businesses face an annual regulatory cost of $10,585 per employee, which is 36 percent higher than the regulatory cost facing large firms. Colorado goes a step further in making itself inhospitable to small business by slapping fines and penalties on first-time minor offenses.”
• Tax fairness. Introduce or co-sponsor a bill that, as the Colorado Municipal League delicately phrases it, “allows state and local governments to require businesses to collect state and local sales and use taxes on remote sales.” That sounds reasonable, but as such a bill would go straight to the “kill committee,” also known as the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
Since the committee’s jurisdiction is so broad, any bill can be referred to it by the majority leadership, there to die on a party-line vote. Few sane politicians would dare to both tussle with national Internet powerhouses and propose broadening the state sales tax.
• Fracking. At this point, it seems unlikely that El Paso County will be significantly affected by any fracking deal, because it appears that we have little if any frackable oil and gas. Yet, it’s critically important to the state’s economy that a durable, reasonable compromise be reached to accommodate both the industry and environmental advocates. There’s an advantage in being detached from the fray — our legislators can, if they so choose, play a leading role in crafting appropriate legislation.
• Climate change. It’s here, it’s real, and we have to deal with it. Our forests are threatened by fire and pine beetles, cities are at risk from extreme weather, farmers and ranchers are struggling with heat and drought, and we’ll soon be fighting with every other Western state and city that draws its water from the Colorado River.
Colorado Springs depends on the Colorado and its tributaries for more than 70 percent of its municipal water supply. Thanks to the Southern Delivery System, we’ll be somewhat less dependent on the Colorado River in years to come, but we’ll still have to go toe-to-toe with Arizona, California and Nevada — not to mention Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. If California’s crippling drought continues for the next several years, the day of reckoning may come a lot sooner than we expect.
• The state budget. Remember Rodney Dangerfield in the famous Saturday Night Live sketch titled “Two Mile Island,” wherein Dan Aykroyd played an addled President Jimmy Carter investigating a “nukular” meltdown at the Two Mile Island reactor? Carter/Aykroyd ventured into the containment structure and was transformed by atomic radiation into a giant. Asked to explain the president’s transformation to his horrified spouse, Dangerfield was blunt.
“How big is the president?” Dangerfield declaimed. “Lady, he’s really, really big!!!”
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed 2015-16 budget, released Monday, includes total spending of $26.8 billion for the state’s July 1-June 30 fiscal year. That’s approximately 100 times larger than the Colorado Springs general fund budget, and 150 percent greater than Phil Anschutz’s net worth.
Really, really big? No, it’s stupendously, mind-numbingly big. No single person can possibly grasp its complexity, so you have to rely upon hundreds of experienced analysts and senior state officials to explain it. And even though elected officials have the power to pass the budget, they can only affect it at the edges.
That’s partially because 88 percent of the general fund budget goes to four areas: K-12 education (35 percent), higher education (8 percent), public safety/courts (13 percent) and health and human services (32 percent). It’s also because much state spending is controlled by a complex web of federal mandates and programs, notably Medicaid.
For example, the state now has 20,482 offenders locked up in its prison system. That population is projected to grow by 439 in 2015, triggering a request for an additional $6.6 million in funding. Other Department of Corrections budget increases include $2.1 million to replace emergency radios, as well as funds for capital improvements and repairs to aging facilities. Total requested DOC funds increase: $29.8 million.
You won’t find much fat to cut there, or anywhere. Colorado may have emerged nicely from the Great Recession, but it will take years to catch up with deferred maintenance, capital projects and K-12 funding levels.
And then there’s the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) that requires state government to rebate $167.2 million in “excess” revenue collections. That money could pay for a lot of items on any legislative wish list, but it’s going back to taxpayers.
Other items may not be mandated, but cut them at your peril. Here’s one in Gov. Hickenlooper’s transmittal letter: “$52.4 million for the second phase of the Department of Revenue’s effort to replace its systems related to the issuance of driver’s licenses.”
In the next five years, that single budget item might directly and positively affect least half of the state’s adult residents — so you might want to leave it alone.