What we've learned

Filed under: Opinion |

By Jim Griesemer

Chairman

Editor’s note: Last month, the University of Denver announced the formation of the Colorado Economic Futures Panel to analyze the state’s fiscal situation and provide a platform for informed discussion and possible solutions. Sixteen business and civic leaders from across the state comprise the panel, including Dick Celeste, president of Colorado College. This is the first of a series of columns that the panel plans to submit every two weeks until early April, when the panel expects to complete the first phase of its work.

About the Panel

There is little question that Colorado is a state under financial pressure. Nearly all public agencies in Colorado – the state, cities, counties, districts, public schools, colleges and universities, health providers and many other organizations – are experiencing some degree of fiscal stress.

Although various ideas have been advanced as to the causes for Colorado’s economic plight, the truth is that, while many agree a problem exists, there is not yet a clear consensus on either root causes or long-term solutions to the fiscal issues facing our state.

The Colorado Economic Futures Panel (CEFP) was established by the University of Denver as a non-partisan task force to take a comprehensive look at Colorado’s financial problems and potential solutions. The panel is composed of a number of accomplished citizens from around the state, representing a variety of professional backgrounds. Because it is not sponsored by a governmental, political or special interest organization the panel has great freedom in looking at the issues. The panel’s only interest is the long term fiscal health of our state as a means of preserving and enhancing the quality of life that brought so many of us to Colorado.

Besides the excellent backgrounds of its volunteer members and capability of its staff, the panel is unique in several other ways. Not the least of these is its very broad perspective. Rather than just looking at one issue such as higher education, as important and pressing as that may be, the panel is taking a comprehensive view of the entire fiscal structure of the state. That’s a big job, but in a world in which everything is connected to everything else, it is really the only way to understand what’s going on.

Unlike other groups that have looked at this or that aspect of Colorado’s fiscal problems, the CEFP is not starting with an assumption as to the underlying cause. For example, it is popular to assume that TABOR or Amendment 23 are root causes and that fixing them (whatever that means) will solve the state’s issues. The difficulty with that approach is that when the problem is pre-defined, so is the range of answers. In reality, given the complex financial dilemma in which the state finds itself, the underlying problems are probably neither all that simple nor subject to a silver bullet solution or sound-bite fix.

The work of the CEFP will be divided into two main parts. Between now and the end of March, the panel will focus on understanding the underlying causes and potential implications of the fiscal problems in the state. This part of the effort, costing some $200,000, is being paid for by the University of Denver as part of its mission to support the public good. The second part of the effort, identifying potential alternative solutions, is planned to begin in April and continue through the end of 2005. The ability to undertake the second portion of the study is subject to raising additional funds to cover staff and research costs.

The final reports of both phases of the panel’s work will be made available to the general public and shared with public officials. Because an important part of the CEFP’s effort involves public information and education, we plan to write this “What We’ve Learned” column as we go along. Our goal is to share with our fellow citizens the information we uncover and the observations we make. We think that is important since, ultimately, this is our state and its future is our responsibility.

Jim Griesemer is professor and dean emeritus at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. Comments may be directed to the panel through its Web site: www.du.edu/economicpanel.