Rick Wagner Column September 25, 2008

For too many politicians, solution to every problem is more taxes

I have been listening to a lot of radio lately and, if I hear the political ads correctly, all of the local candidates are fiscal conservatives. This includes some who have never met a spending or taxing program with which they have not passionately fallen in love.

Now they seem to be steely-eyed budget hawks, ready to swoop down and protect the community from marauding tax varmints.

Sadly, this is not the case. Instead, the toga party of spending that has been taking place at the Legislature in Denver for the last two years has resulted in a $100 million shortfall in next year’s budget projections.

The good news is that Colorado seems to be weathering the national economic downturn much better than most states. The bad news is that no matter how well the state is surviving the economic problems, our Legislature can’t keep its hands out of its own pockets. When it can’t find money there, it looks in your pockets.

We are paying the price for legislative bodies that are predominantly made up of government functionaries, unsuccessful businesspeople and various do-gooders whose mission is to make you fund their philanthropic adventures, whether or not you agree.

Someone told me recently it was frightening to think folks who couldn’t make change at a fast-food restaurant were creating legislation affecting Colorado business.

But for the Western Slope, it is more than that. It is the continued viewing of our part of the state by the Front Range lawmakers as a piggy bank from which they can drain off money and water.

This problem hasn’t really changed since my grandfather’s day. What has shifted is that we now have the means, by dint of a growing population and economic prosperity, to begin to oppose those actions with the proper representation. And there, of course, is the rub.

Front Range politicians, due to their numbers, control all of the goodies, such as committee appointments and the ability to get through a favored piece of legislation.  As a result, the Western Slope provides a big part of the revenue pie but is only given a little sliver to eat.

For instance, as part of this revenue shortfall — which is a mixture of economic blundering and legislative splurging — The Colorado Senate News notes that $230 million that was anticipated as revenue for highways when the budget was adopted last spring has evaporated.

I don’t have to tell anyone who lives on the Western Slope that some of our roads are in bad shape, some of it undoubtedly due to the impact of the oil and gas industry.

The Colorado Legislative Council notes that federal mineral leasing revenue from the energy industry to the state has grown from $50 million in 2002-2003 to nearly $154 million in 2007-2008 and is expected to increase next year to $223 million.

I think we can safely say we haven’t seen enough of that revenue directed back to the producing counties and I don’t recall seeing much in the way of gas production down near the Capitol, where it is being spent.

As spending in Denver continues, various shifty ways of squeezing money out of taxpayers are being offered.

The governor’s amendment to authorize a $300-million-plus increase on the cost of oil and gas production, for example, cannot help but be substantially absorbed by the public in the form of higher energy prices or disappearing jobs.

Another amendment offered by former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff offers to “fix” the problem between the
Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) and Amendment 23’s requirement for constant increases in education expenditure. This is predictably accomplished by the only solution known to most politicians: remove the impediment of the TABOR revenue limitation.

Every solution is the same: Give us more money or, if you want us to stop bothering you, release us from the requirement to keep asking your permission and override TABOR.

Government spending, if unchecked, follows three stages: wants, needs and compels.

TABOR makes them ask before they get to do the last one and they’ve never liked that.

But we should.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong, which can be reached through the blogs entry at GJSentinel.com.


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