MORGAN LIDDICK
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June 9, 2008
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Morgan Liddick: Stick 'em up ... The Governor is coming

So this is what oblivion looks like. When he first proposed it, Governor Ritter was told that his scheme to bypass the people of Colorado and grab millions of new tax dollars was, well, a violation of TABOR. The Attorney General told him. Legislators who possessed common sense told him. One hopes at least some of his advisors cautioned him. He went ahead anyway.

A law freezing property tax rates in our state's school districts, developed by the governor and passed by the legislature, is a change to tax codes. When rising property values poured an additional $117 million into the state's coffers in the first year alone, that was an increase in revenue. Using Colorado school districts as a bagman for the new swag only made the plan devious, not constitutional. Now, the governor has been told so by the Denver District Court.

Boss Ritter's response to this setback? Nothing. He continues as before, planning the state budget as though the court decision had never happened. No contingencies, no plan B. Nothing save a sort of "hope." Specifically, hope that the court's finding will be overturned on appeal.

True, there is a chance of this. The State Supreme Court has had lots of experience subverting various portions of TABOR, and is doubtless willing to search for a way around Colorado taxpayers' control of their wallets once again. But in this case, it is difficult to see how the Supremes can stretch the provisions of Colorado's constitution to fit such a finding.

The Governor's expectation " that greed and political expedience will trump a commonsense reading of the law " reveals both a cynical view of what makes this state tick and an inflexible approach to doing the people's business.

Boss Ritter has a similar set of problems with his scholarship program. He's been clear enough about what he wants: income limits, grade-point-average requirements, a "need-based" program. But he doesn't seem to understand that there are other actors in the process, or that the phrase "trust me" doesn't go very far with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, with University administrators, or with voters. They want to see the details. And that's where it gets dicey.

The specifics of the "Scholarship Promise" are still being hashed out, and according to some who are involved, may not be available until some time in October. This makes selling the program to the good people of Colorado a little problematic.

One thing about the plan is clear, however " its source of revenue. The monies used to buy the votes of students and their parents will come from changes to the oil and gas severance tax, which creates another constellation of difficulties.

District 7 Senator Josh Penry probably said it best. Speaking to a Grand Junction area Chamber of Commerce forum recently, he labeled the measure an attempt to raid Western Slope resources to underwrite statewide programs, which indeed it is. Ritter's scholarship proposal takes approximately $200 million a year from Colorado's extractive industries " money which should go to those communities most effected by their activities " and transfers them to a new and as yet unidentified class of supplicants, the majority of whom will probably not be residents of Silt, Meeker and Rifle. Expect this action to further aggravate bad feeling between the Western Slope and the Front Range, with roughly the same result as the Referendum A debacle of 2003.

Why, in the name of all that is well-organized, did the Ritter Administration not think these problems through before pressing ahead? Perhaps the answer lies in his previous occupation.

A good prosecutor needs administrative ability, true " and the Governor was, by most accounts, a good prosecutor. But a finely-tuned sense for political realities seems to have been missing. Consider the dust-up over his office's willingness to clear cases by bargaining-down various felonies committed by illegal aliens to charges of "agricultural trespass." Although that scandal was buried by deft political legerdemain and the help of media, it does show a bias toward expedience and a certain political tone-deafness. Governor Ritter's recent double-dealing with Colorado's business and labor communities does nothing to ameliorate that impression.

Now, a year and a half into the governor's term this is what we have: an administration befuddled by politics, baffled by opposition, paralyzed when things do not go as planned, and above all fearful to campaign forthrightly for those things it feels are needful for our state. At least it's a change from years past, so I suppose there are those who will cheer.

Among them, Colorado's transvestites who, thanks to the Governor, can now use the restroom of their choice. We should all be thrilled.


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The Summit Daily Updated Jun 9, 2008 02:57PM Published Jun 9, 2008 02:57PM Copyright 2008 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.