Alabama Shocker: Still Struggling with Prejudice

Gov. Bently of Alabama has signed a bill with incredibly strict immigration laws. Easily the strictest in the country at this point.

Not only will profiling be mandatory, but it will also be illegal to provide transportation, or shelter to anyone in the country illegally. Yep, that’s right. Churches and charities will have to check your identification before offering help (isn’t that in the Bible?). Homeless and robbed? Go back to the street! If volunteers are being arrested for letting you sleep on a cot, or driving you to the doctor, they won’t have any volunteers for long. Get a job, rummy.

Possibly the worst part is the citizen check for students. All state run schools will be required to verify the immigration status of their students.

There are no exceptions, unless you don’t look like an immigrant. Please make a note, Canadian aliens, it’s “about”, not “aboot.” Keep that in mind and you’ll be fine.

Anyone darker than a paper bag should be on the lookout even while driving through Alabama. This includes anyone with too dark a tan on a summer vacation. If your 15 year old doesn’t have identification, you could find yourself in jail for transporting them.

But don’t worry because this law isn’t prejudice at all. It’s just preconceived judgment based on skin color.

Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay More

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)



The Ruby pipeline–which will bring gas from Wyoming and Colorado to the West Coast–is set to come online soon, the Sentinel is reporting:

The Ruby Pipeline, scheduled to go online in March, is set to begin carrying natural gas from the Rocky Mountains west to Oregon in July, officials said.

No date has been set for the opening of the 675-mile, 42-inch, natural-gas-transmission pipeline, which is to carry as many as 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

At least a portion of that will come from the Piceance Basin as Bill Barrett Corp. has a contract to supply 50,000 cubic feet per day, said David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

While this will increase the marketability of Colorado’s natural gas, there is some question about how well it will work to achieve American energy independence or lower consumer prices.  Instead it is more likely to increase our dependence (on global markets) and make us pay more.  

Given the current glut The Ruby Pipeline Project is likely an attempt to open new markets in Asia, turning natgas into a fungible commodity like oil and hurting American consumers.

Currently natgas is a regional, rather than global, commodity.  Priced around $4 mcf, Colorado’s gas is less economical to drill than Pennsylvania’s, about 1/6th the cost according to my napkin math.  But making it a global commodity would ‘stabilize the price differential’–meaning Americans would likely pay more for our home-produced energy.  

Unlike crude oil, which is traded globally via tankers and pipelines, natural gas trading remain primarily isolated within the producing regions and lacks the infrastructure to be a true global commodity.

So the recent spike in crude prices has also accentuated the international LNG price differentials to the U.S. Henry Hub….of up to 300%.

While Henry Hub gas in the U.S. is sitting at less than $5 per mmbtu, NBP gas in the UK costs more than $9, and the benchmark for east Asia which is liked to JCC, ‘Japanese Customs Clearing Price’, or ‘Japanese crude cocktail,’ is more than $13 per mmbtu, according FT.com based on Platts data.

With an estimated 100 years of domestic shale gas supply at current rates of demand, and a farily flat domestic demand outlook, it is understandable the excitement of market players from the prospect of gas exports to higher priced markets in Asia and Europe.

Once priced on international, rather than national, markets producers will seek the larger return, driving up local prices as well.  

Of course, that’s not how it is being sold:

Project Summary

To address our nation’s growing demand for natural gas and associated transportation infrastructure, Ruby Pipeline, L.L.C. (Ruby) filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on January 27, 2009, for a certificate of public convenience and necessity authorizing the construction and operation of the Ruby Pipeline Project.

Rather it is being touted as addressing our nation’s energy needs–similar to the broader meme that drilling more in the U.S. will move us toward ‘energy independence’ in any significant way.

In Coos Bay, Oregon a fight is underway regarding a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) hub, and the possibility that it is being built for export rather than import, as first announced.

Many assumed that the ongoing construction of the Ruby Pipeline would signal the end of proposed US West Coast LNG import terminals and pipelines because, as Jordon Cove admitted in the FEIS, Ruby would supply the West Coast with ample domestic natural gas.  The Ruby Pipeline has begun construction, but instead of admitting defeat, Jordon Cove is fighting harder than ever, even suing the State of Oregon for going too slow. This shows that Jordon’s Cove hidden agenda is to export domestic gas, not import LNG. Exporting would be from Ruby, through Pacific Connector, right to the terminal location on the Oregon coast.

And this:

Several LNG terminal owners have filed applications with the U.S. Department of Energy for authorization to export natural gas produced in the United States from their facilities, many of which were built last decade with the intent of importing – not exporting – LNG to meet what was perceived at the time as a growing demand for natural gas in the U.S.

Perhaps building new markets is wise–for our energy producers, the jobs they support, and for the revenue that activity generates in state and federal coffers.  But it is not moving us closer to energy independence.  Rather it is locking American consumers into a new global energy market that will quickly devour surplus and ‘stabilize’ the price differential–meaning that you and I and everyone else in the U.S. is likely to pay more, not less, for natural gas.  

‘Drill here, drill now’ resulted in a massive glut of natural gas and no market–and now American consumers are likely to ‘pay more.’  

TABOR–Rhymes With Shaffer!

The Colorado Republican House Majority and Senate Minority have sent a joint letter to Senate President Brandon Shaffer, asking him to convene a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council in response to the lawsuit recently filed attacking the constitutionality of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR):

The letter that Shaffer, who chairs the Executive Committee of Legislative Council, received from Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens and Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, states:

“The proponents of the lawsuit claim that requiring prior voter approval of any tax increase violates the core principles of representative government and is therefore unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution.  We believe that the right of Colorado voters to approve or reject any tax increase is clearly appropriate.”

McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said, “Legislative leaders need an open discussion to decide whether we are going to defend the will of Colorado’s voters, or take away the important taxpayer protections in our state Constitution.”  

“Elected officials should be fighting for working families and small businesses, not looking for new ways to raid their pocket books,” said Stephens of Monument…

First of all, there’s very little question that Shaffer will convene this meeting as requested by the Republicans–we haven’t heard yet, but it’s entirely likely he already has and they’re just working out the schedules. It will of course be an opportunity to get prospective congressional candidate Shaffer on the record regarding the TABOR lawsuit, beyond which it’s not really clear what the legislature can do about the case other than grouse for or against. Hopefully they’ll stick to the subject instead of devolving into more proxy running of interference for Cory Gardner.

Which reminds us, are we the only ones who have noticed how many press releases about Shaffer the state-funded House and Senate GOP press offices are churning out these days? A little of that is expected, but it’s getting a bit thick. Can somebody consult the rules about this?

In any event, the lawsuit against TABOR now underway does make a rather fundamental assertion about the role of direct democracy under the Constitution, and as intended by the Founders. The question for the court to decide is not whether citizens have the right to an initiative process where state constitutions provide for it, but whether certain laws passed under that right–in this case, TABOR in Colorado–have so far restricted the ability of their representative government to function that it amounts to an unconstitutional usurpation of legislative authority. And by extension, representative government itself.

As Exhibit A, the powerlessness of the state to meet basic mandated needs like education, transportation, and health care in the slightest economic downturn. Why was it necessary for the legislature to hunt down so many favored small-fry tax exemptions for business, or abrogate another constitutional provision, Amendment 23, or any of the one-time “gimmicks” and other forms of balance-sheet “trickery” Republicans bemoan year after year? Why does this state consistently rank near the very bottom for funding of so many core functions of government?

Answer: in 1992, the voters of Colorado, rightly or perhaps wrongly, decided that from then on, our elected leaders should not have the authority to solve these problems. And while that may make Frank McNulty’s job nice and easy as a legislator, we’ll be very interested to see if a court finds that the Founding Fathers…expected a little more of him.

Sal Pace Announces for 3rd CD


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( – promoted by Colorado Pols)



Leading with Tipton’s position on Medicare cuts, dissing the Roaring Fork, and not paying attention to local issues, Sal Pace makes his bid official in an email to potential supporters:

Dear [redacted],

I wanted you to be among the first to know:  just this morning, I proudly and officially began my run for US Congress from Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.

It’s a big step for me and my young family, one I don’t take lightly.

But I’ve now seen how Scott Tipton votes back inside that Beltway.  He voted – and strongly defends – the Ryan plan ending Medicare as we know it.  He won’t support projects like the Roaring Fork’s Regional Transportation Authority that will help solve some of the challenges faced by our local communities.  He’s not paying enough attention to issues like Pinon Canyon or Fort Lewis’ Native American tuition waiver.

http://www.paceforcolorado.com/

Does Sal Pace have a chance against Scott Tipton?

View Results

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Scott Tipton Screws Roaring Fork Valley

Back in November, we noted a pending request from the Roaring Fork Transit Authority for $24 million in federal funding for bus system upgrades–left over from the plate of defeated Democratic Rep. John Salazar, one of of very first duties of Rep. Scott Tipton’s staff was to tell local officials “not to panic” about this request, but also maybe to not get real comfortable about it either. After Tipton’s election on a confused slate of fiscal promises up to and including “cutting the government in half,” you can understand why RFTA officials were kind of sweating.

Real Vail reported a couple of days ago, the need for these funds is getting urgent:

U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis – all Colorado Democrats – announced late last week that they have sent a letter to Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, urging his agency to release funding for the VelociRFTA project in the Roaring Fork Valley in time for the short construction season. [Pols emphasis]

The Federal Transit Administration has identified the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s Veloci-RFTA project, which would create the first-ever rural bus rapid transit line, as a priority to receive $24 million out of a pool of $1.6 billion in transit funds appropriated by Congress this year. But the funding has yet to be made available. The lawmakers believe the bus line is a critical investment in the Roaring Fork Valley’s economy because it will provide one of the most efficient ways to get workers and visitors from town to town.

Polis represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Vail but not Aspen. Republican Scott Tipton represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Aspen…

As the Glenwood Springs paper reports today, Rep. Tipton refused to support this request, citing a desire to cut “at least $15,000″ from the $24 million asked for. The $15,000 cited is for a WiFi system for commuters using the upgraded RFTA service, which RFTA says they are paying a significant portion of anyway. In addition, Tipton’s spokesman vaguely states the letter sent by Rep. Jared Polis and Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet is “too rigid” in terms of asking for the full appropriation (that is, not wanting the bottom line cut).

In this story, it’s very clear that local officials are incensed at Tipton’s dithering over a tiny line item in their request. But the vague expressed desire to “review” the request with Tipton’s staff, and the uncertainty that introduces to the RFTA’s “shovel-ready” project, is a much more ominous prospect to them, and with very good reason–lack of basic understanding, like why WiFi service might make transit more appealing to commuters, thereby increasing ridership and revenue, doesn’t exactly portend useful engagement. And while Tipton picks at insignificant line items, the time they have in the high country to build while the ground is not frozen ticks away…

If we were a stakeholder in the Roaring Fork Transit Authority’s success, which is in turn tied to the economic prosperity of all the communities it serves, we might really start to wonder if there’s somebody better out there we could be working with.

Federico Pena Endorses Romer for Mayor

With about three weeks to go in the race for Denver Mayor, there aren’t many significant endorsements left to be made…but this is definitely one of them.

From a press release from the campaign of Chris Romer:

Today, Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, who served as both Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Energy under President Clinton, endorsed Chris Romer for Mayor of Denver.

“Almost thirty years ago, I launched my own campaign for Mayor on the banks of the Platte River,” said Peña. “I challenged Denver to Imagine a Great City and we built the Central Platte Valley. Today, I am choosing this same location to fully and enthusiastically endorse Chris Romer for Mayor. He will carry forward our vision for fully developing neighborhoods across Denver including those along the South Platte.”

While Pena did endorse former Mayoral candidate James Mejia, who has since backed Romer, it was not a foregone conclusion that Pena would also back Romer. Though he is always courted, Pena makes relatively few endorsements in political races (compared to former Mayor Wellington Webb, who, rightly or wrongly, endorses a candidate in seemingly every race in which he is asked). Pena’s endorsement will help Romer in two very important areas — among Hispanic voters and among progressives, who remember him as much for his Cabinet positions under former President Bill Clinton as anything he did as Mayor.

Among people who travel a lot, Pena’s endorsement may be a mixed blessing; spend enough time at DIA, and you’re probably sick of Pena Boulevard.

Full press release after the jump.


Today, Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, who served as both Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Energy under President Clinton, endorsed Chris Romer for Mayor of Denver.

“Almost thirty years ago, I launched my own campaign for Mayor on the banks of the Platte River,” said Peña. “I challenged Denver to Imagine a Great City and we built the Central Platte Valley. Today, I am choosing this same location to fully and enthusiastically endorse Chris Romer for Mayor. He will carry forward our vision for fully developing neighborhoods across Denver including those along the South Platte.”

“I am humbled and honored to have the endorsement of Secretary Peña, a man who has not only meant so much to our city but to our nation,” said Romer. “I want to carry Secretary Peña’s legacy forward to revitalizing Denver’s economic engine, attracting jobs and putting Denverites back to work.”

We need to expand Denver’s prosperity to the people who are being left behind. We need to ensure that every child in Denver has access to education and the opportunity it brings. With people like Secretary Pena and James Mejia supporting me, I know we can make that happen.”

“I endorsed Chris Romer in the Mayoral race because I see him as the best candidate to support the people of Denver,” said Mejia. “Chris shares my commitment to positively affect Denver through strong public policy like the Platte River Redevelopment plan.”

The Platte River plan builds on the shared vision of Secretary Peña and James Mejia. It includes:

Development of the South Platte River from Overland on the southern border of Denver, Vanderbilt Park/the former Gates Rubber Plant, Sun Valley, continued development of Confluence Park, and River North.

Each development will incorporate expanding/developing parks and mixed use development.

Two proposed sites integrate transit oriented development at FasTracks stops.

In developments that include established neighborhoods, like Sun Valley, the residents will not be displaced but rather included in the planning and will have the ability to stay in the neighborhood if they choose.

GOP Circles Redistricting Wagons

Republicans in the Colorado House today introduced a new proposed redistricting map, which passed that GOP-held chamber today ahead of even more certain death in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The changes are simple enough, as reported by the Denver paper’s Lynn Bartels, and reverse previous concessions made to gain Democratic support–more conservative Littletonians in CD-6, more Aurora liberals in CD-1. Reports Bartels, Rep. Dave Balmer is quite candid that the changes are in response to a breakdown in bipartisan negotiations which, at least at some point, included Gov. John Hickenlooper.

That being the case, Republicans simply want the GOP proposal in the legislative record as favorable to them as possible. The next step, presuming the failure of both map bills in their opposing chambers, would either be a special session (which Speaker Frank McNulty has said would be a waste of time), or proceeding straight to ripeness for litigation.

We’ve got your daily dueling nastygrams from McNulty and Sen. Rollie Heath after the jump. Says McNulty, “Democrats have used the word ‘competitive’ to describe their districts. As demonstrated by the statewide outcry to the Democrat plan, Coloradans recognize that not all districts will be a toss-up between Democrats and Republicans; they want their communities of interest represented and will decide themselves who will represent them, not some numbers cruncher in Denver.”

Argues Heath, “In April, Republicans admitted to deliberately drawing districts to give their party an unfair political advantage and solidify their majority for the next decade. Colorado does not want Congressmen or women for life.”


McNulty Statement on Redistricting Map Passed by the House

DENVER-Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, released the following statement regarding redistricting:

“I have consistently said that Coloradans deserve a fair map. I use the word ‘fair’ on purpose. Colorado is as different in its geography as it is in the way certain parts of Colorado expect their members of Congress to represent them.  

“Democrats have used the word ‘competitive’ to describe their districts. As demonstrated by the statewide outcry to the Democrat plan, Coloradans recognize that not all districts will be a toss-up between Democrats and Republicans; they want their communities of interest represented and will decide themselves who will represent them, not some numbers cruncher in Denver.

“And beyond that, the Democrat plan is even more insidious. All they have done in the name of ‘competitiveness’ is to create a scheme to elect Democrats by ripping Colorado apart. Democrats know that voter registration is not indicative of a district’s performance. Democrat voters in Adams County do not vote like Democrats from Boulder County and Republicans from Denver don’t vote like Republicans from Colorado Springs. And, as Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose), has pointed out over and over again, the letters ‘R’ and ‘D’ mean even less when you talk to people from rural Colorado.

“This scheme that the Democrats have tried to pull off is not only deceitful, but shows that they are willing to tear through the heart of Colorado’s Eastern Plains just to draw a district for Democrat Senate Pres. Brandon Shaffer of Longmont. They are willing rip apart Colorado to draw a district for one man’s political ambitions.

“The ‘Colorado Communities Map’ forwarded by legislative Republicans is not perfect, but no map will be perfect. Because Colorado still has seven congressional seats, our plan works from the existing boundaries for our congressional districts. From there, population is balanced to meet constitutional requirements and district lines are moved accordingly to account for that balancing. And, no, it is not lost on me that Republicans are working from a map that was drawn by Democrats 10 years ago, but, from our perspective, working from this Democrat map is the fairest way to go about drawing districts for the next 10 years.

“The Democrats disagree. They continue to focus on their smokescreen to scheme Brandon Shaffer into congress and swipe at least three other districts out from underneath Colorado by ripping rural Colorado apart. That is not only unnecessary and foolish, it is unfair.

“The ‘Colorado Communities Map,’ House Bill 1319, while not perfect, is pretty darn good, and it respects city and town boundaries, county boundaries, communities of interest like the western slope and eastern plains, and most importantly, it respects Colorado voters.

“Now is the time for elected state leaders to live up to our constitutional duty to pass and implement a plan for Colorado’s congressional districts and not allow Brandon Shaffer to force this process to court where he thinks he can get a better deal. The time to pass a fair map for Colorado is now. Let us not miss this historic opportunity.”

###

Senator Heath says Republicans are trying to rig congressional districts again

Map introduced today is another plan “deliberately tweaked” by Republicans to favor their party in future elections

DENVER- Today, Colorado House Republicans introduced another congressional redistricting map which will give them a 10-year majority in the state. This follows their admission in April that they had “deliberately tweaked” maps to favor the Republican Party in future elections. The admission was reported in the Denver Post in a story entitled “GOP admits skewing Colorado redistricting maps.”  This revelation came even after legislators had formed an historic bipartisan redistricting committee to take on the constitutionally mandated task of redrawing Colorado’s congressional lines. Legislators are charged with redistricting every 10 years following the U.S. Census to account for population shifts.  

On the map introduced today, Redistricting Committee Co-chair Senator Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) made the following comment:

“In April, Republicans admitted to deliberately drawing districts to give their party an unfair political advantage and solidify their majority for the next decade. Colorado does not want Congressmen or women for life. The map introduced by House Republicans today again ‘deliberately tweaks’ Colorado’s congressional lines in a way that will likely create five permanent congressional seats. Colorado voters deserve fair and competitive congressional districts that allow them to hold their elected representatives accountable.”

Last week, Senate Democrats introduced the “Colorado Compromise” redistricting map. The Colorado Compromise map came together by taking public input given at meetings around the state, and it incorporates ideas advanced by both parties.  The Colorado Compromise map includes districts that are competitive (five out of seven districts have less than a seven point difference between registered Republicans and Democrats) and that protect communities of interest such as city and county boundaries and transportation corridors.

City Forward & Other Technologies Change Our Understanding Of Our Environs

I’ve written in the past–whether it was about IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge or City Forward projects–about the different ways that cities can serve as laboratories of government and how cool it is that these projects can be part of this process. Given their size and immediacy in our lives, they are the level of government we are most intimate with. You may think state and national government is more exciting; still, nothing comes close to the city in terms of its impact on our day to day lives, and as they are more immediate, we can also have a much greater impact on them.

In our urban centers, if you look hard enough, you can find the the keys to the kingdom for how diverse and yet complementary cultures, values, and priorities all came to be entwined in our broader American experience. The design of our cities reflects that which we value in our culture. And by advancing our values and our priorities at the municipal level, we can begin to move the mountain in the direction we want it to face.

Once you add in emerging technologies, the possibilities are both exciting and endless. Among those emerging technologies are mobile applications, putting the potential for restoration and renewal at our collective finger tips.

From one perspective, mobile apps aren’t new. I’m certain many of you reading this are familiar with ‘The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.’ In that wonderful series of books by the late Douglas Adams’ the protagonist carries a computerized device (the ‘Hitchhikers’ Guide’) which can instantaneously tap into the universe’s collected knowledge.

I was blown away by that notion. And I don’t think it would be a bridge too far to refer to our iPhones, Android phones, iPads and Honeycomb tablets as our living, present equivalents of the ‘Hitchhikers’ Guide’: small, portable devices that can, at a moment’s notice tap into our collected knowledge of the world we live in, helping us gain the agency to improve our surroundings.

In keeping with that philosophy, I noticed that IBM has now released mobile applications through its Smarter Planet initiative (City Forward is a smarter planet initiative) that help illustrate how our world’s systems — everything from cities and buildings to our energy grid, transportation networks, our healthcare and our food supply  – are becoming more interconnected and intelligent.

The apps are available for the iPhone (iTMS link), Android (Amazon App Store link) and Blackberry (AppWorld link). Best of all, they’re free. If, like me, you deeply care about urban centers and our ability to–unlike a certain 1980s President–genuinely create that “shining city on a hill,” I highly urge you to check em out, download them and become better acquainted with how cities are helping to build a smarter planet.

(full disclosure: I’m doing work for IBM on this project.)

A Frightful “Vision Thing”

For years, the response to conservatives demanding huge but undefined federal budget cuts, or grandstanding on miniscule expenditures like public broadcasting, has been pretty simple: what would you actually cut to keep these promises? Republicans had control of Congress for many years prior to the Democratic majority that took power in 2006, but rhetoric notwithstanding, no comprehensive plan to meaningfully reduce government spending ever emerged.

Indeed, the period of one-party rule in Washington, DC under a Republican Congress and President George W. Bush was a model of fiscal irresponsibility–when historic tax cuts and huge new government entitlements such as Medicare Part D both passed.

The reason was simple: in order to carry out the rhetorical fullness of their successful election platform, they would have to make cuts that would horrify the public, and prove devastating to the Republican Party politically. As a result, the party of fiscal responsibility became the opposite, as they sought to please everyone by cutting taxes and growing entitlement spending.

This is, at least in the mind of its lay members, a reason the “Tea Party” came into existence: a demand by “ordinary” Americans for the decades of promises by Republicans for a “smaller government” to be fulfilled. And as the Washington Post reports today, the new congressional majority elected by the “Tea Party” in 2010 has made good on that pledge.

Which will now horrify the public.

House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious and politically perilous plan to resize the federal government and stem the $14 trillion national debt by slashing spending on domestic programs and fundamentally overhauling government health programs for the elderly and the poor…

The proposal urges a sweeping transformation of federal health programs that would wipe out funding for Obama’s health-care initiative and end Medicare as an open-ended entitlement. Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly, would be replaced for those under age 55 with a system of premium supports to buy insurance policies in the private market. The plan would not restore cuts to Medicare made under Obama’s health- care legislation, though it would eliminate a special board established to restrain the program’s future growth.

Medicaid, the health program for the poor, would come in for sharper cuts, totaling $771 billion over the next decade. The GOP plan would roll back the Medicaid expansion called for under Obama’s health initiative by ending the financing partnership between the federal government and the states. Instead it would create block grants giving states less federal money but freeing them to manage the program as they wish…

On discretionary spending, Ryan’s plan would match Obama’s call for Pentagon and war funding, but it proposes major cuts to domestic programs totaling $1.6 trillion over the next decade – holding growth in education, transportation, justice, food safety and other programs well below the rate of inflation. The move would make good on a Republican campaign pledge to restore domestic spending to levels in effect in 2008, before George W. Bush and Obama began pumping federal dollars into the economy to blunt the effects of recession.

Programs for the poor would get particular attention, the blueprint says, “to ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.” [Pols emphasis]

Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is a sweeping declaration, folks, a point of debate that clarifies exactly where–and how far apart–the two ideological poles in American politics stand today. There’s no question, as we discussed before, that cuts of this magnitude would have major impacts on the economy; which, whether the “Tea Party” likes it or not, is underpinned by both the private and public sectors. But beyond that, there’s the simple history: these institutions the public takes for granted, that would be privatized, shrunk, or eliminated, arose in response to identified needs within American society. We have Medicare because senior citizens in America couldn’t get coverage, and as a result, couldn’t get health care. Just one example.

The voters may have an unrealistic vision of what they want, but we assure you, this is not it.

The Republicans have done the country a great service today by revealing their true vision–cuts that undo fundamental planks in America’s social safety net, while continuing to slash taxes. It’s a much more honest proposal than the previous unworkable policy of tax cuts and deficit-financed largesse, and that may be what the GOP will regret the most when this is over.

PeГ±a Endorses Mejia (with video)

At a press conference yesterday, James Mejia received the endorsement of Secretary Federico Peña. We won’t make a habit of posting press releases here, but wanted to share the announcement itself as well as video of Secretary Peña discussing his reasons for endorsing James.  Secretary Peña talked with Mario Solis-Marich about his endorsement yesterday afternoon and audio of that interview is up on our website at http://bit.ly/m4maudio

(Our apology to ColoradoPols who let us know that they have not been receiving our press releases – press list updated!)

Peña Endorses Mejia

Citing experience & vision, says Mejia is “a leader for our times”

DENVER –  Denver Mayoral Candidate James Mejia today received the endorsement of former Denver Mayor Federico Peña. At a press conference in Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood where Mejia was presenting his “Denver’s Next Frontier” plan for development of the South Platte River and Denver’s Infill Projects, Peña announced his endorsement of Mejia for Mayor of Denver.

“James Mejia is ready to lead Denver into this decade with an enhanced vision for our City. His experiences operating City agencies, making tough budget decisions, helping to create jobs, and improving education make him a leader for our times. James brings people together to solve complex challenges and he will serve all Denverites with that same passion”.

Peña, who served as Mayor of Denver from 1983 to 1991 and later served as Secretary of Transportation from 1993 to 1997 and Secretary of Energy from 1997 to 1998 under President Clinton, called on Denverites to “Imagine a Great City” when he ran for Mayor in 1983. During his campaign, Peña appeared in commercials walking along the Central Platte River in an area dominated by abandoned warehouses and empty land filled with garbage and debris along the railroad tracks – an area that would grow to be LoDo, one of the most vibrant areas of Denver today.

“It is a privilege and an honor to have the support of a friend, a mentor and one of the most talented minds in our community,” Mejia said. “Decades ago Federico Peña dared us to imagine a great city. It will be an honor to work with him to fulfill some of that vision.”

In Mejia’s “Denver’s Next Frontier” plan released today (and available online at http://bit.ly/hvIGBN), Mejia wrote that “Denver’s history is filled with defining moments: during the mid-1800′s it was building a railroad to Cheyenne connecting us to the rest of the country.  From the 1980′s through the 1990′s it was building the Denver International Airport and the revitalization of Lower Down Town Denver (LoDo).  Today, as we emerge from a recession that has devastated our economy, we are again at a defining moment.  We can choose to maintain the status quo, hoping for economic recovery or we can confidently shape our own future and Move Denver Forward.  Denver’s Next Frontier is about looking within to create jobs, building on our foundation as a great city and taking bold steps to make Denver a destination for business and visitors alike.”

The Dave Report

Since a number of these aren’t political, I’m create an off-topic diary for them

Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste

the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant-a by-product from burning coal for electricity-carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.

An innovative way to earn a living

Florida High-Speed Rail Line Would Have Been Very Profitable

Three weeks after Gov. Rick Scott put the brakes on high-speed rail, the Florida Department of Transportation on Wednesday released a study showing the line connecting Tampa to Orlando would have had a $10.2 million operating surplus in 2015, its first year of operation.

Interesting letter from a MIT Professor about why we don’t need to worry about the Japanese Nuke plants

It’s not the idea, it’s the execution (boy is that true).

There is a fallacy rooted in the minds of many who wish to become rich – the fallacy of the great idea. Having a great idea is not enough. It is the manner in which ideas are executed that counts. Implementation will always trump ideas, however good those ideas are.

Good ideas are like Nike sports shoes. They may facilitate success for an athlete who possesses them, but on their own they are nothing but an overpriced pair of sneakers. Sports shoes don’t win races. Athletes do.

BoA leaks dump this Monday

from: zerohedge A member of the hacker collective Anonymous, which singlehandedly destroyed “hacker defense” firm HB Gary, who goes under the handle OperationLeakS “is claiming to be have emails and documents which prove “fraud” was committed by Bank of America employees, and the group says it’ll release them on Monday” reports Gawker.

Great read: Some of It Was Fun – couldn’t put it down.



DU Study: Colorado Revenue System Unsustainable

(Read it and weep – promoted by Colorado Pols)



Yesterday, members of DU’s Center for Economic Progress presented their findings from the first comprehensive study of Colorado’s tax system commissioned by the legislature since 1958.

The findings of the study should reinvigorate supporters of a proposed ballot measure. The presenters were adamant that Colorado’s revenue system is wholly unsustainable and needs to be modernized to support a growing need for state services:

  • Reforms of the revenue system

Colorado’s current revenue system could be made more productive and  flexible with measures that broaden revenue bases to capture a larger share of economic activity. This may be accompanied by lower rates and still result in a more productive and equitable revenue system. In addition, reconsidering the earmarking of certain revenues for specific purposes could increase elected officials’ flexibility to deal with changing circumstances in a timely manner.

After the presentation, Sen. Rollie Heath announced he would be presenting a ballot measure that could be referred to voters. The press conference will be Monday, noon, at the state capitol.

The gist of the report: even with the solid economic recovery that is projected to take place, Colorado can’t grow itself out of it’s revenue problems. No matter how many jobs we create or whether we create a “pro-business” atmosphere, budget problems will continue to plague the state until long-term, structural changes are made to our revenue system.

The researchers characterized Colorado’s revenue system as the most volatile of all 50 states.

Here are they key points from the summary of the preliminary report:


The long-term, persistent structural imbalance between General Fund revenues and expenditures will not be corrected without structural solutions. Below are the policy directions we have identified and will pursue further in the next phase of the project:
  • A long-term planning approach to complement the annual budget process. Structural problems take years to develop; they will not be resolved overnight or during a single budget process. A long-term plan should address the persistent fiscal imbalance. It would be adjusted as necessary when economic circumstances and policy decisions exert different pressures on revenue and expenditure trends.
  • Budget rules that address the volatility of revenue streams. Given Colorado’s volatile tax structure, the management of state finances requires an explicit recognition of that volatility and rules for managing it. A budget stabilization fund would capture revenues generated during unusually large upswings and save it to cover shortfalls that result from large negative swings.
  • A redefinition of the state-local partnership for funding schools or a new way to fund schools. Tax-base erosion under the Gallagher Amendment, property tax limits imposed by the school finance act and TABOR, and the mandated cost increases of Amendment 23 have shifted the burden of funding K-12 education substantially to state resources. The partnership between state and local revenues should be rebalanced or Colorado should consider a new way to pay for public schools.
  • Strategies to address programs, particularly Medicaid, which grow faster than revenues. As Colorado’s large baby boom cohort ages, the state will experience slower per-household revenue growth coupled with greater Medicaid expenses. Strategies include planning for cost increases, more cost-effective ways to deliver Medicaid services and ways to improve the productivity of current revenues.
  • Stable and permanent funding sources for transportation, capital needs and controlled maintenance. In the long term, the General Fund cannot provide surplus funding for transportation, capital needs and controlled maintenance. Other financing mechanisms will need to be identified.

The report’s findings mirror those of a similar report by the Buechner Institute of Governance at the School of Public Affairs, CU Denver. While there may be agreement around the problems with Colorado’s budget, concensus is far from being reached on any solutions.  

We’re Repealing FASTER! (Not Really)

Ever since the original news last December that new GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty would not prioritize repeal of the 2009 FASTER motor vehicle fee increases for road and bridge repair, after repeal of FASTER emerged as a central campaign theme for a number of his candidates (and himself), we’ve been watching the reaction from his fellow Republicans.

And it hasn’t been very good for McNulty.

In January, as we and former state senate president John Andrews reported, a group of conservative legislators met with the Colorado Tea Party Alliance in Arvada. Sometime between this meeting and the last couple of weeks, the Tea Party Alliance swung into action with an online petition calling out McNulty by name as a “tax and spend stooge,” and demanding that every part of the “car tax” be repealed.

Well, yesterday, repeal of a component of FASTER, namely the $25 per month late fee, passed its initial vote by the full House. McNulty voted yes, as did other Republicans who had previously backed away from repeal like Rep. Glenn Vaad. This isn’t what you’d call the “heart” of FASTER, the higher registration fees which account for the majority of the revenue stream. But the late fees are the most politically playable, at least in the minds of Republican opponents.

We, like most observers, expect that this bill will die in the Democratic-controlled Senate, as $25 million for transportation is still something the state needs. We’ve never really been persuaded by this argument that people who are late paying their bills should just be coddled or whatever–how conservative is that? Can we try that with our credit cards, too?

But we’ll be watching to see if this vote, though only pertaining to a small portion of the total revenue raised by the “car tax,” gets McNulty off the hook with the Tea Party Alliance–if anything, it’s a test of how smart, or otherwise, they really are.

The Paradox and the Long Game

John Creighton of Longmont, a leadership consultant and president of the St. Vrain school board, wrote a surprisingly thoughtful analysis of the stark budget realities faced by Gov. John Hickenlooper–and the choices Hickenlooper made–for the Washington Times this weekend:

Governor Hickenlooper’s budget proposals are, in many ways, far more dramatic than those of his colleagues in Wisconsin and New Jersey because of Colorado’s starting point.  According to the Tax Foundation, New Jersey has the highest tax burden in the Nation.  Wisconsin ranks ninth. By contrast, Colorado ranks 34th on the Tax Foundation’s list.

Colorado spends much less than these states, too. Take K-12 education funding as one example. According to Education Week, New Jersey spends a whopping $17,620 per student. Wisconsin spends $10,791 per student. The national average is $10,297. Colorado, meantime, spends just $9,152 per student. (Colorado readers will find this number high. Per pupil funding for ongoing instruction and operations will drop from $6,823 this school year to $6,326, if Governor Hickenlooper’s budget is adopted)…

Governor Hickenlooper is giving Colorado voters what he believes they want. Most public opinion polling reveals that the public wants low taxes and robust public services. A Pew Research Center poll indicates that, by more than a two to one margin, people are opposed to cuts in funding to K-12 education, public colleges, health care or roads and public transportation. In short, people don’t want any public services reduced.

The same Pew poll indicates that large majorities also oppose increases in sales taxes, personal income taxes and new taxes on business. Politicians are avid readers of polls. Not wanting to offend, many politicians try to accommodate people’s desire to have their cake and eat it, too. Governor Hickenlooper said no to that type of pandering.

The truth is, Hickenlooper is only giving the voters half of “what they want”–the Pew survey Creighton mentions exposes a major contradiction in voter sentiment; one that could be responsible, more than any other factor, for the diffcult situation Hickenlooper finds himself in today. Simply put, the voters want it all: they want all of the services from the state that they take for granted, like good schools, roads, and health care.

But they don’t want to pay for them.

Here you see, in our view, the fruit of years of assault on the legitimacy of government by the far right, especially in Colorado: voters no longer have a realistic understanding of what is required to fund the basic services they use every day. The dogmatic campaign against taxes and for “small government,” well past any reasonable assessment of services or appropriate funding, has succeeded to the point where the linkage between the two has been fundamentally broken.

So what does this mean? Creighton continues:

Here’s the rub. Governor Hickenlooper’s budget proposal for the state may be the first honest attempt to reconcile a desire to keep taxes low at all costs (for which he deserves credit). But, his budget lacks vision. One or two years from now, after public services have been dramatically rolled back, people are likely to ask, “What now?”

What now, indeed? As we’ve discussed repeatedly, this isn’t the first year that state revenues have been falling. For the last few years, cuts to essential services like K-12 education were offset by a variety of short-term fixes, tax exemption repeals, cash fund transfers, and other…well, even their proponents called them “gimmicks.” But the point is, these moves in many cases shielded the voters from the damage that was being done. Mostly because the situation this year is significantly worse, and the quick fixes have generally been used–but also, we think, out of a desire to be honest about the situation, Hickenlooper did not attempt to conceal or forestall the pain this year.

Which, as the reaction he’s gotten should tell you, has been a rude shock. But for all the anger Hickenlooper is seeing today, primarily on his left, if you take a longer view…is Hickenlooper making a real solution to the state’s chronic shortfalls and inadequate support for essential services more likely in the long run? By first being honest about the unworkable tradeoffs the voters expect? Because we’re beginning to think, for all the desire to minimize the short-term pain, that this is where any successful attempt to solve the problem must start.

How’d We Get to Where We Are? … The Road to 2011

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)



Comments accompanying yesterday’s post on the state budget indicate some folks have a hard time sorting through Colorado’s many fiscal constraints — which is completely understandable. We’ve summarized them in a handy two-page pdf that we call The Road to 2011, but we’ll post it here, too.

Almost three decades of constitutional amendments, legislative acts and economic ups and downs …

To understand how Colorado finds itself in its current fiscal condition, it is helpful to look back at some critical decisions made by legislators and voters over the last 29 years, and at some of the economic and political factors that drove those decisions.

In 1982, near the end of a period of strong economic growth, voters passed the Gallagher Amendment to shield homeowners from significant property tax increases due to rapidly rising home values. The amendment ensures the overall share of statewide property tax revenues paid by homeowners remains at roughly 45 percent of the total, with commercial property owners paying the other 55 percent.

Since Gallagher passed, the total value of residential property in Colorado has grown three times faster than the total value of commercial property. To maintain the 45-55 split, the assessment rate for residential properties has been cut repeatedly while the commercial rate has remained the same.(1)

In 1991, the legislature passed Arveschoug-Bird, a statutory 6 percent cap on annual growth in General Fund appropriations to operating budgets. This provision, named for its legislative sponsors, is usually referred to as a spending limit. It is better understood as a spending formula because it directed where money could be spent rather than limiting how much could be spent. General Fund revenues collected above the 6 percent could still be spent by the state — just not for operating expenses, such as educating students or paying for medical care. For the last dozen years, revenues that topped the 6 percent limit have been largely used to fund transportation and capital construction needs.

In 1992, voters approved the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, a constitutional amendment with wide-ranging implications for all levels of state government. TABOR requires voter approval of tax increases. It also limits revenues, which at the state level cannot increase from one year to the next by more than the increase in population plus inflation. Over time, these limits have been shown to force cuts in government services,(2) and they can be overridden only by a vote of the people. Another of TABOR’s provisions bars the weakening of spending limits without a vote of the people — a provision that until recently many interpreted to mean Arveschoug-Bird, originally passed by the legislature, could be changed only by popular vote.

Among the most far-reaching effects of TABOR is that it shifts the most important fiscal decisions (taxes and spending) away from elected representatives and to the voters. For the most part, state fiscal policy is no longer made by 100 elected legislators and the governor — it is made by more than 3 million registered voters.

In 1997, the legislature passed Senate Bill 1 to allow General Fund revenue to be used for transportation projects once the 6 percent Arveschoug-Bird formula had been reached. For several decades, revenues from the gasoline tax and other sources traditionally used for transportation have not kept pace with need. This is largely due to increased fuel-efficiency of automobiles — motorists pay the same amount of taxes per gallon of gasoline but drive further on that gallon. Once the Arveschoug-Bird cap was reached, SB 1 allowed a little over 10 percent of state sales and use tax revenues to move to the Highway Users Tax Fund, an amount meant to represent the share of those taxes attributable to purchases of vehicles and related items such as tires and auto parts.

During the 1990s, Colorado and the rest of the nation experienced unusually strong economic growth. From 1991 to 2001, Colorado was the third-fastest-growing state as measured by state gross product and by employment growth. State revenues grew with the economy, far exceeding the state’s TABOR limit. Between 1997 and 2001, TABOR required the state to rebate a total of $3.2 billion in revenues that came in above the TABOR limit.

At the end of the decade, the legislature cut sales and income taxes by as much as $800 million. The goal, based on an assumption of continued strong economic growth, was to stop collecting revenues that would just have to be returned.

In 2000, voters passed Amendment 23, a constitutional amendment that requires per-pupil funding for K-12 education to increase by inflation plus 1 percent each year through FY 2010-11. The 1 percent kicker expires in FY 2011-12, but per-pupil K-12 funding still must increase each year by inflation thereafter. The purpose of Amendment 23 was to help Colorado’s funding for public schools catch up to the national average.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the stock market bust in 2001-02, the nation (and Colorado) experienced a significant economic downturn. This, combined with the effects of the tax cuts enacted by the legislature, resulted in an unprecedented drop in state revenues. Because the Colorado Constitution requires a balanced budget, this in turn forced the state legislature to slash state services.

Meanwhile, faced with a continued gap in transportation funding, in 2002 the legislature passed HB 1310 to transfer two-thirds of the General Fund excess reserve to the Highway Users Tax Fund. The other third was set aside to build, repair and maintain state buildings. The General Fund excess reserve is what was left over after overall revenues satisfied all other obligations, including General Fund operating budgets, the 4 percent statutory reserve, and transfers to Transportation under SB 1.

Interactions among these and other constitutional and statutory provisions have often produced consequences beyond those intended.

The interaction of the Gallagher and TABOR amendments, for example, caused a major decline in the local tax base for public schools, requiring significant backfill from the state. From 1989 to today, the local share of education funding has dropped from 57 percent to 37 percent – a historic shift toward state funding for public schools.(3) In part to counter this, in 2007 the legislature voted to remove a provision of the 1994 School Finance Act mandating that local school districts reduce their mill levies whenever they experienced TABOR surpluses. This move was challenged in court, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the Legislature was acting within its authority.

The decline in the local property tax base in turn helped spur passage of Amendment 23. By 2000, Colorado had slipped well below the national average for funding its schools. By requiring funding for public schools to increase faster than inflation, Amendment 23 was designed to help Colorado’s schools catch up.

Protecting public school funding from cuts during the economic downturn, Amendment 23 exacerbated the problem for other parts of the budget. As a result, budget cuts fell heavily in other areas. By 2004-05, appropriations to colleges and universities were 21 percent below where they were in 2001-02, despite continued inflation and enrollment growth.

The tax cuts enacted by the legislature before the economic downturn contributed to the severity of the revenue shortfall in 2002-03. While the intention may have been to stop collecting excess revenues that would have to be returned as the economy grew, the actual effect was to greatly exacerbate the decline in revenues as the economy stalled out.

And as revenues finally started to recover with the economy in 2004, Colorado began to feel the full effects of the so-called ratchet mechanisms in both TABOR and the Arveschoug-Bird formula, which lowered both the state revenue limit and the General Fund allocation level by roughly $1 billion during the economic downturn. The effect was to lock in recessionary spending levels. It was comparable to a reservoir that could not be refilled after severe drought, making the low-water mark from the drought the new high-water mark for the future.

In 2005, voters passed Referendum C to bypass TABOR’s ratchet effect and allow state revenues to recover with the economy. Ref C allows the state to retain all revenues it collects for five years (FY 2005-06 through FY 2009-10), regardless of the TABOR limit. For FY 2010-11 and beyond, Ref C lets the state government retain all revenues up to a new “excess state revenues cap” – a cap that still is based on growth in population and inflation but that no longer has a ratchet effect during downturns.

In its first three years, Referendum C allowed the state to retain an additional $3.6 billion, or about 14 percent more than it otherwise would have. Roughly 60 percent of that could be spent on General Fund services, allowing the budgets for K-12 schools, higher education, health and other programs to partially, though not entirely, recover from the downturn.(4)

But because Referendum C did not address the ratchet in the Arveschoug-Bird formula, nearly 40 percent of the revenues it generated (or $1.4 billion) was automatically transferred to transportation ($1.17 billion) and capital construction ($243 million).

In 2008, the nation entered its second major economic downturn in a decade, with state revenues expected to drop by at least $1 billion from previous projections. And while the new revenue limit established by Referendum C will allow revenues to recover with the economy, the ratchet that remained in the Arveschoug-Bird formula was expected to reduce the amount of these revenues that could be spent on General Fund programs by $1.2 billion in FY 2012-13.

To avoid this ratchet effect, in 2009 the legislature passed SB 228, removing the 6 percent formula in Arveschoug-Bird but leaving in place its other provision limiting General Fund expenditures to no more than 5 percent of total state personal income. The removal of the 6 percent formula also effectively eliminated the trigger for SB 1 and HB 1310 transfers to transportation and capital construction. To compensate, SB 228 also committed the state to transfer some General Fund revenues to transportation and capital construction starting 2012. And it created a mechanism for increasing the General Fund reserve or rainy day fund, which has proved inadequate during the last two economic downturns.

That is how we got to where we are today. One clear lesson from the recent past is that an attempt to address a specific problem will often have unintended consequences – and often in areas seemingly unrelated to the original purpose of the measure. As Colorado moves forward from here, we need to be especially attentive to the effect of our actions on all areas that matter to our future.

***

This summary is adapted from Looking Forward, Colorado’s Fiscal Prospects after Ref C, the Bell Policy Center, Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, 2007.

End notes

1) Colorado Division of Property Taxation 2006 Annual Report, Section II, pages 10 and 14.

2) Ten Years of TABOR, The Bell Policy Center, 2003.

3) Understanding Mill Levy Stabilization in Colorado, Colorado Children’s Campaign, April 9, 2007.

4) Looking Forward, Colorado’s Fiscal Prospects after Ref C.