04 November 2005

An Affordable Agenda For Colorado Democrats

Referendum C's passage has permitted life to go on with some semblance of normalcy in state government in Colorado. But, this hardly means that the Democrats who control both houses of the state legislature have free reign.

Budget Limitations

They can't increase taxes and most of Referendum C's money is already spoken for, with at least 90% ear marked for specific purposes. Recall:

30% for K-12 schools: textbooks, libraries, kindergarten and preschool, in-classroom instruction

30% for health care: For elderly, low-income and disabled people, programs to lower health insurance costs for individuals and small businesses

30% for community colleges and state colleges: Need-based financial aid, merit-based financial aid, College Opportunity Fund Program, which gives $2,400 a year directly to students to apply toward tuition costs

If Referendum D had passed the remainder would have gone towards:


Work on 55 projects approved by the Colorado Department of Transportation:

$1.7 billion


Capital funds to repair dilapidated buildings in the poorest school districts. Typically, these funds are matched 2-1 by local districts, which means $220 million in total improvements: $147 million


Improvements and repairs to facilities at university, colleges and community colleges: $50 million


Colorado's share of the state-local match to the pension fund, which the state has deferred for several years because of the budget crunch: $175 million

Thus, 85% of the remainder would have gone towards transportation, and I suspect that even in the absence of bonding authority under Referendum D, that the bulk of the remaining Referendum C money will go towards transportation.

Amendment 23 would have largely protected K-12 education from cuts in any case. Likewise Medicaid will largely be held harmless from state level cuts (although the Senate and House are both likely to pass significant cuts in this program at the federal level in then near future and rising medical costs also put pressure on the program). Referendum C will permit something approaching the status quo to continue in Colorado higher education from a funding perspective. Transportation budgets are likely to be a little higher, although, in the absence of bonding authority, the emphasis may be on fixing a larger numbers of smaller projects, rather than 55 major projects as originally planned.

From a budget perspective then, the 2006 session will be largely about priorities within major budgetary categories, rather than amongst them, and about cuts, if any, that can be made to the one major state budget item not addressed in Referendum C, the corrections budget.

Change We Can Afford

This doesn't mean that there aren't items in the Democratic agenda that can't be enacted at a modest budgetary cost. Some examples which were proposed, but did not become law from last session include:

* An end to employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation.
* A right for employees to take limited unpaid leave for school functions.
* A limited warranty of habitability in residential leases.
* A resolution of an ambiguity in the way eviction case deadlines are calculated in favor of tenants.
* A mandate that rape victims be informed of the emergency contraception option in emergency rooms.
* Establishing treatment rather than incarceration as the normative response to a first time hard drug possession cases in the courts.

Some other ideas that could go on the table include:

* Permit election day voter registration.
* Mandate verification receipts for electronic voting machines.
* Repeal criminal libel laws.
* A long term plan to implement a statewide voting center system where anyone, anywhere in the state to vote in any voting center in the state.
* Establish a small fund to investigate misuse of non-profits for political purposes by the attorney-general with an eye towards revoking corporate status under state law for such entities.
* Deregulate the caucus process to the extent possible, turning this over to political party rules.

Criminal Justice.
* Shifting the power to try juveniles as adults from prosecutors to judges.
* Shifting criminal justice resources from non-violent to violent offenders in connection with a redesignation of felony/misdemeanor classifications of offenses so that standard sentence enhancements become simply part of the offense grade.
* Establish strict liability for compensatory damages from the employers of law enforcement agents arising from the use of force which injures or kills innocent people, regardless of the intent of the office.
* Provide a right to attorneys fees for individuals acquitted at trial of a criminal offense when represented by a private attorney.
* Provide a right to compensatory damages equal to the median income in the state for each year in question (plus reimbursement of attorneys' fees) for people whose convictions are later overturned, regardless of whether or not the state's actions were wrongful.

Civil Liability.
* Enact laws to discourage the use of self settled asset protection trusts.
* Increase the damages threshold for single people without dependents to more than $250,000 in wrongful death cases, and the worker's compensation benefit for such people to more than a funeral allowance.
* Allow punitive damage awards in arbitration cases where they would be allowed under state law.
* Restore personal liability of management for unpaid wages under Colorado's wage claims act.
* The repeal of a law, apparently never successfully used, designed to make Colorado a center for foreigner's trying to hide their money from non-U.S. taxes and their creditors.
* Establish a statewide system for registering judgment liens (now handled seperately for each county).

Health Care
* Allow small businesses and self-employed people to buy into either the Medicaid system or the state employees health insurance systems at cost.
* Improve vaccination rates.
* Prohibit pharmacists from refusing to provide prescriptions for their patients.
* Allow non-prescription (or paraprofessional prescription) emergency contraception.

Business and Professional Regulation
* Mandate stronger penalties and stiffer enforcement from professional regulatory bodies.
* Mortgage broker regulation.
* Ban and establish serious remedies for car sellers who engage in yo-yo financing (i.e. giving vehicle owners the impression that lending is secure and then denying a loan and repossessing the car if less favorable terms aren't met).
* Prohibit a variety of lending practices in consumer transactions, including, but not limited to, negative amortization loans, excessive default interest rates, excessive late fees, etc.
* Require subprime mortgage lenders to disclose comparable costs of renting and prime rate lending, and a description of which customers which generally qualify for prime rate lending.

* Improve car insurance compliance enforcement.
* Reinstate a modest form of no fault car insurance with a more comprehensive ban on suits in small cases (including property damage cases), a more limited medical expenses definition, and few, if any, collateral benefits (e.g. lost services).
* Prevent the "super slab" project on the Eastern Plains from being imposed without governmental consultation.
* Encourage modern traffic circles.

* Start foreign language instruction at an earlier age (i.e. like 3rd grade).
* Permit school districts to impose impact fees on new residential development.
* Prohibit local governments from offering businesses property tax breaks without the consent of impacted school districts.
* Improve truancy enforcement and support for truant children and their families.

1 comment:

Dex said...

prophet for district whatever-he's-in!