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Selling Gold Watches in Colorado November 24, 2007

Posted by awatcher in Colorado Governor, Colorado Legislature.
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Holy Cow!  Some fool invited me to blog here, too.

“Gold watching” is an old tradition among those who allocate government funds.  It is a term for putting something that the taxpayer or tax consumer really wants below the funding line as a means of getting as many programs with less support as possible funded (above the line).

Anyone who has observed Colorado politicians in the past few years has seen gold watching being used against the taxpayer’s interest in the most classic way.  Ref C was supposed to be a timeout from TABOR to solve three problems.  Borrowing from a Mark Hillman – Amy Oliver study:

Voters were assured by Ref C proponents that K-12 education, colleges and universities, and health care would split the lion’s share of the resources if the measure passed…

However, a closer look at the state budget shows that the supposed beneficiaries have not benefited nearly as much as the  remainder of the state budget.  Since the 2005-06 budget, passed prior to Ref C, general fund spending has increased by $1 billion, or 16.1 percent. Spending on Ref C “targets”—K-12, higher ed and health care—has grown by just 11.9 percent, or $557 million. Meanwhile, the remainder of the general fund, which wasn’t targeted for a Ref C infusion, has grown by 28.7 percent, or $446 million.

Now that Bill Ritter and his band of merry taxaholics control the legislature, they have conveniently forgotten their promises to the public.  They know that the public wants more money spent on higher education, so they will ask for another, targeted tax increase, with the money to come out of individual taxpayer’s pockets.  They think that the public can be tricked into paying for the same gold watch (higher education) two or three times while they siphon huge sums for other less popular spending projects.

Another gold watch tactic is to use an unpopular tax source to fund less popular programs.  Sin taxes are traditional sources of revenue.  No non-smoker  likes smokers, and the more it costs to smoke, a voter might think, the fewer smokers there might be. 

It is very likely that the next “sin” tax target will be the oil and gas industry, specifically, severance taxes.  With Oil hovering around $100 a barrel and Natural Gas that is like to hit $10 per thousand, what voter wouldn’t be willing to see the state take some of that money and use it for … the voter will hardly care.

The Republicans have tried to head them off at the plateau by proposing that severance taxes go toward funding higher education.  This ploy recognizes two facts 1) higher severance taxes are likely to be approved by the voters and 2) the voters want a good higher ed program.  If the Republicans can direct that fire-hose of new government funding into higher ed, they might, just possibly, be able to slow the growth of government in other areas.

The Democrats are having none of this because it destroys their gold watch plans.  Care to bet that the four month delay in approving drilling on the Roan Plateau that Ken Salazar negotiated with BLM by holding a political appointee hostage was more about giving Democrats time to figure out how to use the severance taxes and still be able to gold watch education than it was about saving the plateau?

Since this isn’t my blog, (he he) I’ll make a rash prediction:  Before Bill Ritter leaves office, he will find a way to remove his objections to drilling on the Roan Plateau as long as the windfall (more like avalanche) in new money goes to his own projects, none of which will be higher education.  Taxpayers will be asked to fund Higher Ed by digging deeper into their own pockets – again!

Note:  This is the first time I’ve used this blogging software, so I have no idea about what I will get or if I can edit it.  Have patience.

I am, as always, a watcher, though here, I might be “awatcher” 

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