Is Colorado's Legislature Really this Bad?

We in Colorado have just suffered through a 2009 legislative session, wrapped up last week, which resembled an intense microcosm of what’s happening in D.C.

Under the (lack of) leadership of Governor Bill Ritter, the Democrats passed some truly bad legislation but also failed to pass some, with Republican opposition able to convince just enough “moderate” Democrats to break away from what are generally party line votes

In April, Ritter signed HB1292 which made into law new regulations regarding oil and gas drilling, rules which the Colorado Oil & Gas Association described as “the most costly and burdensome” in the country.  COGA has filed a lawsuit against the measure alleging that the Department of Natural Resources staff intentionally understated the regulations’ costs to the industry and to taxpayers.

Pressure for the new rules came from environmental groups, and the rules give the Division of Wildlife substantial influence over whether a drilling permit will be approved. Approval can be withheld if there is a complaint that the drilling might pose “a material threat to wildlife resources,” the subsequent investigation of which could take months.  

Says State Sen. Greg Brophy, “Ritter took final action in his long campaign to destroy the oil and gas industry. If there were any other industry struggling like the oil and gas industry, the state government would reach out its hand and ask: ‘How can we help?’ Instead this governor shoves them over the cliff.”

Colorado’s Democrats offer a near-perfect parallel with the “No Drilling in ANWR” crowd in Washington, D.C., sacrificing state and national energy self-sufficiency for fear of annoying an elk (who, by the way, do not seem to have been particularly disturbed by prior drilling activity, just as the caribou don’t mind the Alaskan oil pipeline.)

Another poorly conceived bill was HB1293, which allows hospital to charge federally-matched “provider fees” to help cover the cost of providing medical care to “low-income and uninsured populations.”  The law allows hospitals to collect $600 million in such fees and a matching amount from Medicaid, piling more on to our national debt, and, in part, forcing taxpayers, insurance companies, and those who pay their own medical bills to subsidize illegal aliens’ health care.  Many states already have similar plans in place in order to bite into the “free lunch” of matching Medicaid funds.

An Associated Press article encapsulated typical Democrat-think quite well: “Ritter said there will be no increased cost to taxpayers, but opponents said no one knows how much the fees would cost or who would pay the estimated $600 million a year. Republicans said someone will have to pay, and it will probably be passed on to insurance companies and consumers. Republicans tried to cap the fees at $2,000 per patient per day, but Democrats refused to impose any cap…”  Again, an oddly familiar refrain with the “single payer” discussion we hear from Democrats in D.C.  As someone once said, if you think health care is expensive now, just wait until you see how much it costs when it’s “free.”

Also like the D.C. Democrats, the Colorado government punted on tackling the state’s looming budget crisis. Rather than making substantial budget cuts, Democrats added $1 billion in taxes and fees, such as substantially raising car registration charges. Republican critics such as likely candidate for governor, Sen. Josh Penry, noted that Democrats suggested cutting prison sentences for many crimes, including felonies, as a cost-cutting measure. Penry and the GOP successfully stopped that move.

Of course this lack of fiscal discipline comes as no surprise under the leadership of a governor who hired hundreds of state workers during a hiring freeze imposed by him.  Any cost cut which might hurt the ability of a union to collect money is off the table under this state’s administration, just as it seems to be in Washington.

Other Democratic gems during this legislative session:

  • The legislature threatened to cut $300 million from higher education spending unless they were allowed to raid $500 million from a state-founded but not state-owned workers compensation insurance company.  After tremendous public and business outcry against a despicable attempt to steal private money, Bill Ritter and the legislature backed away from the plan.
  • With the help of one so-called Republican, the legislature passed and Governor Ritter signed SB228 which repeals the state’s long-standing limit of 6% annual growth in state government spending — a remarkably irresponsible move during the worst economic downturn in generations.
  • HB1342 removed the sales tax exemption on cigarettes even though the state already has an 84 cent/pack excise tax. Although the move appears to violate the state Constitution, a ruling by the ultra-partisan state Supreme Court permitting another apparently illegal tax hike has given the Democrats cover.
  • HB1366 eliminates a capital-gains tax break for in-state investments. While it is not clear that the tax break was legal under federal law, it had been in effect for several years.  House Minority Leader Mike May reacted: “As a matter of policy, why would you begin to penalize investments in Colorado at a time when we’re in desperate need of investment. Even the feds aren’t that dumb.”  Actually, Representative May, they are.
  • And, while it’s not legislation, there was an amusing letter from Governor Ritter to state employees thanking them for the cost-saving measure of “dress down Fridays.”

Fortunately, some other terrible Democratic ideas were stopped by getting a few Democrats to vote with a solid GOP block.  Measures which were defeated, amended beyond recognition, or not brought to a vote because of expected defeat included:

  • Allocating the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. This is a truly horrible idea being pushed by liberals who still dwell on Bush v. Gore, and who care nothing for the founding principles of our nation.
  • Allowing illegal aliens to receive in-state tuition rates at state universities. (Governor Ritter said he would sign it if it passed.)
  • Requiring use of hands-free technology for cell phone use in cars despite studies, including by the federal government, that show hands-free devices to make driving no safer, and possibly more dangerous.
  • Ending the death penalty in Colorado.

Whether in Denver or in D.C., there is no end to bad Democratic ideas. But Colorado’s Republicans have shown that even in the minority it is occasionally possible to protect citizens from the Democrats’ desire to prove redundantly Thomas Jefferson’s maxim that “the natural tendency of things is for government to gain ground and for liberty to yield.”