Here’s why I’m voting YES on Amendment 71 – Raise the Bar

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Let’s face facts:  In 2016, new amendments to Colorado’s state constitution are more likely to diminish our rights than to protect them.

So the more I hear arguments about Amendment 71, the more I’m convinced that we need to vote yes to “Raise the Bar” to make it harder to amend our state constitution.

Colorado’s bill of rights covers the essentials: inalienable rights to life, property and pursuit of happiness; free exercise of religion; freedom of speech and of the press; right to bear arms; no taking of private property without just compensation; security from unreasonable search and seizure.

However, the Colorado constitution lacks the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution, which can be amended only by supermajorities — a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and ratification by three-fourths of the States.

The U.S. Constitution purposefully requires consensus and deliberation and discourages impulsiveness in order to protect our rights.

Colorado’s constitutional process is a product of the Progressive Era, which viewed the U.S. Constitution as outdated, so Colorado voters in 1910 approved a new process of citizen-initiated amendments: one vote, one time.  This is a tool for impulsiveness.Read More

Embracing ObamaCare caused Colorado budget crunch

In Blog, Capitol Review, Notes by Mark Hillman

The newest dubious justification for weakening Colorado’s limits on government spending is “our aging population.”

The spending lobby seeks to frighten senior citizens by telling them that the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) in our state constitution “hampers the ability to fund key programs.”

Parents are told that public schools are in a squeeze because state government needs more money.  But ask why social welfare spending is growing three times as fast as spending on education, and you’re told it’s because Medicaid has enrolled more children and senior citizens – as if that happened merely by chance.

Those explanations ignore some inconvenient facts.Read More

Colorado’s budget problem is spending on entitlements

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

So much chatter at the State Capitol is that Colorado’s government doesn’t have enough money to spend on programs that politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists want to pay for with our tax dollars.

Any discussion of government spending should begin with the basics:

• Government’s job is to work for us – not vice versa.

• Colorado is a collection of working families and business owners who comprise an economy.  We happen to have a government, which we elect. Colorado is not a government that happens to have an economy and five million citizens.

• We expect those we elect to make tough decisions with limited resources – just like we do everyday.

The problem with Colorado’s state budget is not that taxpayers are paying too little or that the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) is too restrictive.  The problem is that, over the last 10 years, the ruling Democrats have over-promised social welfare entitlements which are now devouring everything else.Read More

Our schools are strangled by data-collection overload

In Notes by Mark Hillman

When discussion of K-12 education focuses on partisan funding battles, we sometimes ignore measures to improve our schools that ought to receive bipartisan support.

Over the past two decades, lawmakers, as well as state and federal bureaucrats, have handed down overwhelming mandates for collection of information about students and teachers. (No doubt, I voted for some of these mandates during my years in the Colorado Senate.)Read More

Prosecution, Persecution & Government Intimidation

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

“I love my country, but I fear my government” once struck me as a bit paranoid.  However, recent accounts of citizens who’ve fallen into bureaucrats’ crosshairs is a reminder that “just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after me.”

Consider these examples of government run amok:

Oregan ranchers Steven and Dwight Hammond face five years in a federal prison after two controlled burns drifted past their property boundary and onto federal property.  Judges ruled that one fire might have caused $100 in damage to federal land while another “burned about an acre.”

Still, the Hammonds who, even prosecutors admit, “have done wonderful things in their community,” were prosecuted under a federal anti-terorrism law that mandates a five-year minimum sentence.Read More

The sad state of freedom in America

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Some 30 years ago, a common retort by my classmates when told that we could not do something was, “It’s a free country, isn’t it?”

I don’t hear that rhetorical question much these days.  Maybe that’s because the answer is changing before our very eyes.

One of my favorite restaurants posts a sign that was once common: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

Well, if they refuse service to someone who isn’t an able-bodied heterosexual white male, they’d better have a good lawyer and deep pockets defend themselves.Read More

Advancing justice for unborn victims

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Acknowledging the humanity of an unborn child is always the right thing to do, and it shouldn’t always have to be discussed in the context of abortion.  That’s why the recently introduced “Offenses Against Unborn Children Act” is a worthy cause. Read More

School funding suffers from ObamaCare

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Coloradans’ eyes understandably pass over reports about legislators working on the annual state budget.  After all, the “long bill” – so named because it spans nearly 500 pages – is a necessary but mind-numbing legislative drudgery, salted with indiscernible acronyms, and largely incomprehensible to anyone outside the State Capitol.

To most inside the State Capitol, the budget is a Very Big Deal – a $26 billion big deal.  That’s nearly $5,000 for every Colorado resident.  And that’s not table scraps!

While normal Coloradans go about living their lives, the spending lobby at the State Capitol is paying very close attention to the state budget.  Incidentally, “spending lobby” need not be taken as a pejorative; it simply describes those paid to lobby lawmakers on behalf of agencies, organizations and individuals whose programs are funded with our tax dollars.

Consider some illuminating numbers that chart key developments in Colorado over the past eight years:

• State population has grown by 12 percent.  Personal income is up 22 percent.

• Enrollment in K-12 public schools has increased by 10 percent, and general fund money spent on those public schools is also up 10 percent.

• The total state budget has grown by 45 percent, and general fund (which consists primarily of state income and sales tax receipts) spending is up 55 percent.

So, why isn’t school funding generally keeping pace with overall budget growth?  Here’s the answer:

In those same eight years, spending on Medicaid and the Department of Health Care Policy and Finance is up 148 percent.  Enrollment in Medicaid is up 196 percent.Read More

Easy access to entitlements undermines Americans’ work ethic

In Capitol Review, Notes by Mark Hillman

“Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933.

Although sometimes considered the father of the American entitlement state, FDR understood that our sense of achievement and self-sufficiency comes from our work.

Forty years later, another Democrat, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan likewise grasped the degrading affect of welfare on those it supposedly benefits:  “It cannot too often be stated that the issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it, but what it costs those who receive it.”

In the past 50 years, our federal government has made it increasingly easy to collect a check for doing nothing.  We are now witnessing the rotting fruits of those policies falling from the tree of good intentions and spoiling our society from within.Read More

Don’t punish taxpayers for economic growth

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Colorado’s economy has shown remarkable resiliency in the wake of the Great Recession.

Unemployment has steadily fallen from a high of 9.6% in 2010 to an estimated 4.1% in November 2014.

Income indicators roared past pre-recession levels and now both wages and salary and per capita income are significantly higher.

In the past five years, taxes and fees paid by Coloradans to their state government have grown by 43% from $8.5 billion to an estimated $12.3 billion in the current year.

And next year, state revenue could surpass the state’s spending limit for the first time in 15 years, triggering a modest rebate to taxpayers of $116 million or 0.4% of next year’s state budget.

But those in the Government Always Needs More Money Choir just can’t stand this prosperity.  They are howling that that this modest refund – and perhaps future refunds, if the economy continues to grow – are somehow strangling our state government.Read More