Archive for category HD-6 2010

Biases – Who Cares For the Poor?

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy walking the district, and not just because I get to meet people who agree with me.  You learn more from the people who disagree, and how they disagree.  Usually, we manage to do that without being disagreeable.  After all, it’s surprising to me when people taken the campaign more personally than I do.

But then, there are the times that are revealing.  I started a conversation with one voter, who asked how I felt about the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.  I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I support it, especially the provisions that require taxpayer approval for any increase in taxes.  I firmly believe that recipients of new funds should have to make the case of the worthiness of their cause to the people whose money they’ll be spending, not merely to legislators who see an opportunity to buy votes with taxpayer dollars.

The voter, who, as it turns out, works for a very left-of-center think tank here in Colorado, vociferously disagreed.  Nothing wrong so far.  Then, this:

She: I’m a member of society, and I’m willing to do my part and pay more if I have to
Me: Fair enough, but you do realize that there are plenty of private charities that you can contribute to, that are just as much a part of society, and do just as much good
She: Well, you go ahead and contribute to your religious groups (slight pause) and your secular groups….
Me: Ma’am, please don’t put words in my mouth.  I didn’t mention religious groups at all.
She (spitting nails at this point): Well, I know what you meant.
Me: No, you don’t.  Although, remember that the soup tastes just as good when the Catholics serve it.

This is problematic on a number of levels.  I don’t have any reason to believe the woman was reacting speficially to my yarmulke.  That is, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she has a problem with religion in general.  But the close-minded opposition to the assumed close-mindedness of the religious is an especially destructive sort of prejudice.  It undermines our civil society, those institutions that exist independently of the government, and provide a community connection for both the giver and the receiver.

There is also, perhaps a cautionary tale here for those religious (and secular) organizations whom the government uses to provide needed social services.  These groups, seeing an opportunity to do more, can all too easily be converted into clients of the state, dependent on the government not only for money for service delivery, but also for general overhead.  And after that, they can become easy prey for those who, like my neighbor, hold them in disdain.

Nobody ought dispute the need for a government safety net.  But the temptation to “do more,” laden though it is with good intentions and sympathy for those who need our help, also carries its own risks.

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There’s Labor, and Then, There’s Labor

We all know that sitting and talking things through can give insight.  Usually doesn’t happen in a candidate interview, though.

Still, there I was at the table with a representative from the IBEW, and one from AFSCME.  (Others were there, too, but they’re not really germane.)  In the middle of answering a question, where I was describing how money making a round-trip through Denver didn’t really create jobs, I suddenly realized that AFSCME had no business being at the same table as the IBEW.

I know, I know, Solidarity Forever, and all that.  But the white-collar shakedown artist sitting there asking me about the Taxpayer Bill of Rights had about as much in common with Joe Hill as I do.  And in answering the question, it became clear to me that while we conservatives talk about the philosophical and practical implications of public employees unions being able to choose who sits across the table from them, they are just as vigorously taking bread out of the mouths of those electricians.

How long will it be before the private-sector unions, full of traditional, blue-collar employees, realize that their members’ futures are being endangered by the public sector employees’ guaranteed retirements, before the reluctance of Texas to bail out California is mirrored by a split within union ranks?  Look for it soon, as CalPERS and other public-sector retirement funds begin to throw their weight around on corporate boards, to the detriment of those companies’ ability to pay good wages, reduce hours, and create flexible working conditions.

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Colorado Needs Good Jobs…

…not subsidized “green energy jobs.”

Colorado needs to take advantage of its 300 days of sunshine and its good locations for wind energy.  But subsidizing these energies’ end markets – paying people to use them, or forcing electric companies to use them – is going to cost Colorado jobs in any number of ways.

Now, the model for President Obama’s Green Energy strategy, and for Governor Ritter’s “New Energy Economy” is admitting as much, privately (the original Spanish Government report is here).

In any industrialized economy, energy costs far outstrip labor costs, which makes employment much more vulnerable to increases in the price of electricity.  And wind and solar are exceptionally expensive to produce.  Which means that the jobs they create actually significantly reduce employment in those and other industries.

Colorado is lucky in its abundance of clean natural gas and clean coal.  While continuing to help along the research end of solar and wind, we should make full use of our coal and natural gas resources, to get our economy back to full employment.

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DU – Futures in Communication

In the past, Prof. Christina Foust of DU’s Department of Communication Studies has been generous enough to invite me to address her class, as a blogger and also as a candidate, about communication techniques used in both roles.  Now the department is launching a new major, and has invited me to participate in their kickoff event, Futures in Communication.

Please join us and to discover career opportunities in Communication Studies. A panel of local professionals/communication graduates will discuss the various ways communication intersects with their respective careers and answer student questions. We also have representatives from local organizations to discuss ways that you can apply your degree to a rewarding career.  Please join us for opportunity to network with speakers, organizations, faculty, alumni and graduate students.

It’ll be this afternoon from 5-7pm in the Gottesfeld Room of the Ritchie Center Bell Tower.

I’m looking forward to talking to the students, and gratified to be able to be there as the department takes a huge step forward.

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The Power to Tax…

… is the power to attract Fortune 500 companies.  At least according to State Senator Chris Romer (click for Audio).

I don’t think you’ll get any more Fortune 500 companies until we lean to solve the Gordian Knot.  So sir, we are not gonna get what you want, until we learn to raise our taxes.  Bottom line.

At some level, it’s refreshing to hear Sen. Romer defending corporate welfare so vigorously.  But of course, that’s not really what he’s doing.  The Gordian Knot he refers to is the logjam of Amendment 23, the Gallagher Amendment (which apportions personal and corporate property taxes) and TABOR, which limits how much money the state can take in.  Amendment 23 requires increased spending on K-12, a sacrament for the left.

So next time, when you hear someone (read, Rep. Lois Court) referring to solving the Gordian Knot, you’ll know the code.  Having added dozens of programs, hundreds of employees, and hundreds of millions of dollars to the state budget over the last 6 years, they’ll talk about “solving the Gordian Knot” in order to avoid “sucking the marrow” out of the state government.

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Testimony Helps Defeat Public Financing

This past Thursday, I had the chance to testify against a HB-1156 that would have provided for limited public financing of state legislative campaigns.  The bill was being carried by Rep. Court, and would have created a 2-for-1 matching system, up to $5,000 in matching funds for a State House of Representatives campaign, and up to $10,000 for a State Senate campaign.  While it’s true that I oppose public funding of campaigns on philosophical grounds, my testimony focused primarily on practical concerns: the bill would have failed even on its own terms.  I’m pleased to say that the committee voted it down 7-4, eventually voted to postpone indefinitely, 8-3.

The full audio of my remarks, and those of Rep. Court, will be available soon, but for the moment, here are the basic points that I made.

  • In a time of fiscal constraints, it makes no sense to be providing welfare for politicians while we’re cutting K-12 education
  • While a taxpayer checkoff would be available, it would likely produce little actual revenue, much like the federal campaign checkoff
  • Funding is not truly voluntary, as the campaign account could be funded by general fund dollars
  • The fund balance is not good measure of voter interest in the idea, since gifts and contributions could also fund the account.  Funding all expenses for a campaign cycle would could somewhat more than $1 million, well within the means of a number of Coloradoans who routinely contribute more than that in independent expenditures
  • There are conflicting provisions for distributing funds if there isn’t enough money to go around.   These provisions produce an advantage for incumbents and those with existing political machines, and do nothing to promote competitiveness
  • Campaigns are expensive because printing, mailing, and airtime are expensive, and since campaigns make up only a small part of the whole media market, they have almost no pricing power
  • If a $400 limit is too low, a better route would be to seek relief under the Supreme Court’s Randall v. Sorrell ruling.  It invalidated Vermont’s $200/person contribution limits, for districts that average 1/17th the size of Colorado’s
  • There is little actual public concern; California turned down a public financing initiative by a 3-1 vote, while Alaska’s voters rejected it 2-1.
  • In fact, according to the Justice Department, the cleanest states, like Nebraska, have few or no limits.  And the best-run states, according to Governing magazine, Utah and Virginia, similarly have no limits
  • Arizona’s public financing has failed to increase the diversity of its legislature, as measured by race, sex, or occupation

The proper response should be for the legislature to raise the campaign finance limits and require greater transparency and immediate reporting of who’s paying.  This will encourage money to flow to campaigns, rather than to unaccountable 527s.

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Norouz Mubarak

It was delightful to be able to spend a little time Friday celebrating Norouz, or the Persian New Year, with Denver’s Persian community.  The Persian New Year is celebrated at the onset of Spring, and, like our own New Year, is essentially secular, celebrated by the entire country.  So when my friend Ana Sami invited me to drop by, it was a no-brainer.  I also had a chance to meet Tim Ghaemi in person, after having interviewed him for the Rocky Mountain Alliance’s Blog Talk Radio show last year.

In addition to the actual food, there’s usually a special table set, with a number of symbolic items:

For some reason, they all begin with “S” in Farsi, but here’s the list:

  • Sabzeh – wheat or lentils grown in a tray or dish prior to Noe-Rooz to represent rebirth,
  • Samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence,
  • Senjed – the dried fruit of the lotus tree which represents love,
  • Seer – which means garlic in Persian, and represents medicine,
  • Seeb – which means apple in Persian, and represents beauty and health,
  • Somaq – sumac berries, which represent the colour of the sun rise,
  • Serkeh – which means vinegar in Persian, and represents age and patience,
  • Sonbol – the hyacinth flower with its strong fragrance heralding the coming of spring, and
  • Sekkeh – coins representing prosperity and wealth

There’s also usually a copy of the community-appropriate religious book, be it a Chumash, a Bible, or a Koran.  This being an inclusive celebration, they had a copy of both the Koran and the Bible on the top shelf there, but the big red book there in the middle is actually neither.  Instead, it is a book listing the 12,000+ vicitms of political executions under the current Iranian regime, a reminder that as is often the case, immigrants to America are freer to celebrate their holidays here than they would be back home.

Norouz Mubarak to Ana, Tim, and the rest of the Persian-American community here in Denver.

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Political Effect of the Lawsuit

Despite the fact that this is a legal decision, not a political one, I do believe that it will have at least one positive political effect.

Go ahead, tell me you didn’t feel deflated last night.  No, you’re lying.  I read your comments on Facebook and on the blogs and on the newspaper sites.  I know what you were thinking: France called, they want their statue back.

Now, tell me you don’t at least have a little hope that we can pull back from the precipice.  That week-long planned media celebration of historic achievements is stopped cold, even before the bill is signed into law.

Tell me you don’t feel better now than you did 4 hours ago.

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Caucus Night 2010

It’s humbling to get such a warm reception from my fellow Republicans and from unaffiliated voters in attendance as well. I’ll work hard to earn it!

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Amazon Shoots and Misses

As most of Colorado knows, Amazon suspended its affiliate program in Colorado yesterday.  Monday morning, many of us (myself included) awoke to find the following in our inboxes:

Dear Colorado-based Amazon Associate:

We are writing from the Amazon Associates Program to inform you that the Colorado government recently enacted a law to impose sales tax regulations on online retailers. The regulations are burdensome and no other state has similar rules. The new regulations do not require online retailers to collect sales tax. Instead, they are clearly intended to increase the compliance burden to a point where online retailers will be induced to “voluntarily” collect Colorado sales tax — a course we won’t take.

We and many others strongly opposed this legislation, known as HB 10-1193, but it was enacted anyway. Regrettably, as a result of the new law, we have decided to stop advertising through Associates based in Colorado. We plan to continue to sell to Colorado residents, however, and will advertise through other channels, including through Associates based in other states.

There is a right way for Colorado to pursue its revenue goals, but this new law is a wrong way. As we repeatedly communicated to Colorado legislators, including those who sponsored and supported the new law, we are not opposed to collecting sales tax within a constitutionally-permissible system applied even-handedly. The US Supreme Court has defined what would be constitutional, and if Colorado would repeal the current law or follow the constitutional approach to collection, we would welcome the opportunity to reinstate Colorado-based Associates.

You may express your views of Colorado’s new law to members of the General Assembly and to Governor Ritter , who signed the bill.

Your Associates account has been closed as of March 8, 2010, and we will no longer pay advertising fees for customers you refer to Amazon.com after that date. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned prior to March 8, 2010, will be processed and paid in accordance with our regular payment schedule. Based on your account closure date of March 8, any final payments will be paid by May 31, 2010.

We have enjoyed working with you and other Colorado-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program, and wish you all the best in your future.

Best Regards,

The Amazon Associates Team

The reaction to this has tended to fall along typically uninformed party lines.  The Democrats tend to accuse Amazon of trying to avoid the new Internet Tax.  The Republicans claim that this is just a natural response, pulling out of a suddenly burdensome situation.  In fact, neither is quite right.

The law, HB10-1193, was one of the Dirty Dozen tax increases, an imposition of the state sales tax on a hitherto exempted category.  Internet sales in fact have been taxed, if the seller has a physical presence in the state.  Therefore, if you buy a washing machine from Sears online, since Sears has stores and warehouses in Colorado, you would have paid sales tax on that purchase.  Companies with no physical presence in the state have been exempted from that sales tax here and in most states, because there was essentially no way to enforce the tax.

The Internet Tax supposedly sought to capture an estimated $5 million in revenue that was being missed, on the theory that affiliates based in Colorado provided a physical presence to the company.  In theory, this was revenue that had migrated from taxable in-store sales to non-taxable Internet sales.  However, this was wrong in both theory and practice, and Democrats in the House who voted for it (including HD-6’s current rep Lois Court) were operating under mistaken assumptions.  First, there’s no way of measuring how many sales were made online that otherwise would have been made in stores, and how many were additional sales of items that would not have been available in state, or were from sales that were only available online.  Secondly, good luck getting Amazon to turn over customer records.

Now, when Rep. Court was confronted with the fact that this tax was uncollectable, that companies out of state couldn’t be forced to comply, and that people might well alter their buying habits to avoid the tax, her reply was a consistent, “find me another $5 million.”  In other words, she voted to pretend to raise $5 million and to make the state look foolish in the process.

Clearly, this proposed tax, whose enforcement would have fallen on the affiliates, would have created a huge administrative nightmare for the thousands of small affiliates in the state, many of whom would have folded up.  It was also predictable under those circumstances that companies like Amazon might have folded up and terminated their affiliate contracts.  But a concerted lobbying effort, led by my friends Marc and Claudia Braunstein, who own ShopAtHome.com, a business based entirely on affiliate relationships, and by the PMA, forced the State Senate to amend the tax so that the responsibility for tracking and paying the tax falls on purchasers now, rather than sellers.   In other states, Rhode Island and North Carolina, that change wasn’t made, and Amazon pulled out.  But it was expected that this would save the affiliate relationships here in the state.

So here’s where both sides are wrong, and where it becomes clear that Amazon has made at least a tactical error here.  Their action is clearly not an attempt to evade paying the sales tax.  The administrative burden of that tax falls on buyers, not Amazon, and if Colorado attempts to force a company based in Washington State to disclose the purchases of their Colorado customers, it’s going to find itself needing a supplemental appropriation to the Attorney General’s office.  In fact, the predictable failure to raise revenue, combined with the black hole of legal expenses, might actually allow this change in tax policy to qualify under TABOR.

But precisely because of that, the action makes no sense to the affiliates.  Without warning, thousands of Amazon’s sales partners found their incomes eliminated, despite their efforts. This looks an awful lot like friendly fire.  These are business partners that the company has alienated and insulted.  These are your allies, Amazon.  What, have you been making a detailed study of the Obama Administration’s approach to Britain?

Now maybe Amazon is trying to get their affiliates to put pressure on the state to repeal the damn thing altogether, and Greg Brophy, chief among the Senators Who Get It, is already talking about that.  But maybe Amazon is really ticked off at its affiliates.  After all, they only lobbied to shift the administrative burden, and onto their customers, at that, rather than to stop the tax altogether.  This is, at least, poor customer relations.  It’s also possible that Amazon sees it as cowardly, since the affiliates were counting on Amazon to foot the legal bill to fight this thing.   Never mind that Amazon could have passed some of this cost along to its Colorado affiliates in the form of reduced referral fees.  But regardless of what Amazon thinks it’s trying to accomplish here, it’s awful PR.

In short, both the Republicans and Democrats are wrong.  Doing this doesn’t make it any easier to fight the tax, and as a result, it’s hard to see why it’s a natural outcome of this otherwise horrible idea for a tax.  But in the end, Amazon’s misfire is going to cost it a lot of the goodwill that it brought into this fight.

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