Armchair legislating

The House Budget Committee ranking Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., questions Budget Director Peter Orszag, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 2,2010, during the committee’s hearing on the President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 federal budget. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

Sunday, millions of Americans gathered in front of their flat-screen television sets to watch — and more importantly — critique the Super Bowl. Did Peyton Manning miss a wide-open receiver? Was the New Orleans front line ineffective in protecting Drew Brees? Were The Who out of sync in their half-time performance?

The mistakes are easy to spot from the comfort of your easy chair. It’s much more difficult in the midst of fast-moving action. Ask anyone who has played football or performed live.

The same armchair quarterbacking goes on too often regarding the legislative arena. Opinion writers, political operatives and — far too often — politicians who are supposed to be part of the solution are eager to proclaim what’s wrong with policy prescriptions of others, but reluctant to offer any of their own.

On the national stage, Republicans have been cast as “the party of no” due to their almost universal opposition to legislation proposed by President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. Opposition is fine if you truly believe the legislation is wrong. But you should be prepared to offer alternatives. A few Republicans have done that — on health care, the environment and the budget.

One of the most detailed GOP budget ideas is discussed in the George Will column below. Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future” is a specific, longterm budget plan. Those interested can view it at You may disagree with Ryan’s proposals, as Democrats did during a congressional hearing Friday, but you can’t accuse him of simply sitting on the sidelines, hollering catcalls at the opposition.

In the Colorado Legislature, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry has assumed a role much like Ryan’s. He has offered his own ambitious proposal for revamping state government, consolidating responsibilities and cutting expenses. It may not be perfect, but it is a thoughtful alternative to the Democratic proposals for raising fees and eliminating tax exemptions to close the state’s budget gap.

However, the budget plan released last Thursday by the Senate GOP — with Penry’s backing — is lacking in one critical respect.

The Republicans want to cut state payroll by 0.25 percent in the current budget year and 4.4 percent in the budget year that begins July 1. That would reduce by more than $300 million the $1.3 billion projected state budget shortfall for next year. It’s not an unreasonable idea.

But, other than declaring that teachers’ pay and jobs should not be cut, the GOP plan leaves all the hard decisions about where to cut state payroll up to the governor. That’s like a coach telling his team to “go score touchdowns,” while offering no ideas on how to accomplish that goal.

Republicans need to say where they believe the cuts should be made and be willing to take the heat for their decisions.

Finally, even those of us who watch from the sidelines should be prepared to do more than just attack the proposals of others. To that end, The Daily Sentinel editorial board met last week to discuss several ideas that could potentially help the state deal with its budget crunch. Some of those ideas may prove unworkable and won’t be pursued. Others are more promising.

One, which we agreed to endorse, won approval in a legislative committee shortly after we discussed the plan. It involves Colorado joining a consortium of states to ensure that state sales taxes are collected when people purchase goods online from out-of-state retailers. The idea would not only help the state budget, but it would level the playing field for businesses in Colorado that are at a disadvantage from online retailers who don’t pay state sales taxes.

It’s not that we believe those of us at The Daily Sentinel will come up with the best ideas or the silver-bullet solutions to our budget woes. But the current economic times demand more than cheering or booing from the sidelines. In boom times, it’s easy to sit back and critique how policy makers divide ample amounts of revenue. In a recession, everyone needs to be willing to strap on their cleats.


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