It's time for more transparency in Colorado's public affairs

Filed under: Opinion |

Elected public servants serve the public best when they fully disclose what the future will bring if current trends continue and how their proposed policies will affect those trends.

Today, Colorado higher education funding (not including increasing tuition) is headed for zero dollars by 2010. We know that a college education is needed to earn a living wage and, with respect to the entire working population, to make our economy globally competitive. But Colorado ranks near the bottom among states for high school graduates that go on to college. Minorities are a growing percentage of our population and are less likely to go to college, frequently for financial reasons. Tuition levels will have a greater impact on the ability of minorities to enter and complete college. Colorado imports most of its college graduates. It is facing the prospect of watching those who grow up here become a growing underclass.

Ask those who are proposing solutions to Colorado’s fiscal crisis:

Is the trend in Colorado higher education funding, and the consequences of that trend, OK with you? If not, how will your proposal change that trend?

The Colorado Department of Transportation has reported, in its 2030 Transportation plan, that funding for Transportation needs will fall short by between $50 billion and $100 billion over the next twenty five years, depending upon whether the long term goal includes improving current road conditions and levels of congestion. See its report at http://www.dot.state.co.us/StatewidePlanning/PlansStudies/2030DraftRTP.asp

Ask those who are proposing solutions to Colorado’s fiscal crisis:

Is the trend in Colorado transportation funding, and the consequences of that trend, OK with you? If not, how will your proposal change that trend?

For those who say that the transportation projects on the CDOT list are a “wish list”, ask them which among those projects are not necessary. It is important to be specific. Otherwise, generalities will prevent real understanding of what is being proposed for the future condition of our transportation system, an essential tool for quality of life and the economy.

Colorado’s childhood immunization rate dropped from 21st in the nation twelve years ago to last in 2003, by some accounts. Other health care needs are finding substantial relative reductions in support as well.

Ask those who are proposing solutions to Colorado’s fiscal crisis:

Is the trend in the Colorado health care environment, and the consequences of that trend, OK with you? If not, how will your proposal change that trend?

The competitive need for Colorado’s population to have a college education is growing. The total population needing higher education to be qualified for a living wage job is growing. Colorado Workers, many laid off and unable to find jobs at their previous level of income due to global economic changes, need to be retrained to qualify them for new jobs. There is virtually no funding available in the foreseeable future to pay for facilities for such education. Nor is their funding to properly maintain the facilities that taxpayers now own. Similar conditions exist throughout state government. The buildings that taxpayers now own are decaying, with little relief in sight.

Ask those who are proposing solutions to Colorado’s fiscal crisis:

Is the trend in taxpayer-owned facility maintenance and construction, and the consequences of that trend OK with you? If not, how will your proposal change that trend?

Past legislatures spent funds that were not raised for general fund use to prop up the overall budget. Employers and employees made mandatory payments for years to provide protection for unemployed and injured workers, for example. Those payments were absorbed for other uses, yet the needs for which they were raised remain. Will workers and businesses be required to replenish those funds? Is that fair? Legal?

Ask those who are proposing solutions to Colorado’s fiscal crisis:

Is the use of funds for purposes other that those for which they were intended, and the subsequent requirement that the same people who paid those funds pay them again, OK with you? If not, how will your proposal change the situation?

Colorado’s quality of life is about more than whether or not income in the state is redistributed through tax refunds, a core issue in the current debate. We need an honest depiction of the state’s future condition, and the impacts on the lives of Colorado families and businesses under each proposed solution to the fiscal crisis. What should Colorado become in the future? What standards for public services must be achieved to sustain economic well being and the quality of life that Coloradoans want and expect?

Should public higher education funding per student be at the national median?

Should transportation funding be sufficient to address the $50 billion to $100 billion shortfalls identified by CDOT? Should health care funding per capita be at the national median? Should taxpayer-owned buildings be maintained in average condition? Should students have average access to classrooms and laboratories? Should cash funds be replenished so the state doesn’t cause those who funded them to pay again?

If these standards are not the right ones, should we not expect our elected leadership to tell us what standards they are willing to try to meet in the interest of our state’s future? “Solutions” that meet political ends but that defer fixing today’s challenges for action by another generation should not be acceptable. Coloradoans need to know the consequences of the choices they are being given.

In the business world, deferring the solution to this fiscal crisis would be equivalent to allowing a company balance sheet to continue to decay to make the income statement look good for potential buyers and shareholders. That looks disturbingly like an Enron solution. Savvy investors eventually see through it. But there are no suckers out there looking to buy Colorado, only generations that will inherit it. Colorado’s citizens deserve full disclosure to allow voters to decide if they want to leave a decayed estate to the next generation, or not.

Rocky Scott is the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp.