Commentary From the Mile High City

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Joshua Sharf

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February 22, 2009

How to Amend the Constitution Without Really Trying

What part of "Constitutional Amendment" do the Democrats have a problem with?

Now, they're floating a proposal for an end-run around TABOR using fees and cash funds as a Trojan Horse. You have to put together the various pieces, but there's a point where a piecemeal attack on TABOR turns into a successful nullification.

Warning: Extended Geekery Below

TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, requires tax increases, or any change in tax policy that would result in a tax increase, to be approved by the voters. But fees can be increased ad infinitum, and according to a recent Supreme Court ruling, can be increased without limit, by the legislature, and the money taken in needn't be spent in any relation to the service on which the fee is levied. This means that money taken in by a vehicle registration fee, for instance, can be used for any purpsoe whatsoever.

Now when TABOR - a Constitutional Amendment - was passed, it stated that any pre-existing spending limits would be made permanent. Byrd-Arvescoug, passed in the late 80s, limited the general fund spending, discretionary spending, to a 6% per year increase. (This was passed as an attempt to head off TABOR, which limits overall spending increases to inflation + population increase, but TABOR passed anyway.)

There are also separate cash funds, supposed to be used for specific purposes, and funded by fees levied on government services and registrations. However, the legislature recently began raiding those funds - supposedly temporarily - to make up the general fund shortfall.

Now, Democrats in the legislature - along with the help of one Republican - are floating the novel legal theory that Byrd-Arvescoug isn't a spending limit, but an, "allocation strategy." This means they'd be able to pass a bill - without going to the people - to increase general fund spending by whatever they want.

And they'd fund that spending by taking the money out of cash funds, and raising fees until people screamed for a "more fair" allocation of the burden.

It seems that even in a recession, the least important thing the government wants to spend money on is more important that the most important thing you'll spend money on.

Progressively More Intrusive. Progressively More Restrictive. Progressively More Expensive.

January 31, 2009

Dennis Spindle for Bonus Member

Party organization is a weird thing. We have precinct committeepeople, who used to be called precinct captains, but the name was changed in accordance with the Syllable Maximization Act of 2004. We have District Captains, but there's District 6 for organizational purposes within the county, and District 6 which is used to nominate candidates for the house. There's the Executive Committee, which is different from the Central Committee, and the national Committeepeople, who just elected Michael Steele RNC Chair.

Then, we have something called "Bonus Members." Basically, these are members allocated to a county based on its turnout for the party, and their main role is to vote for state officers. This year, Denver got extra bonus members for three disricts, 1, 6, and 9. Dennis Spindle is running for one of these slots, and he's earned it. He's served in party office, and run for office himself.

Now, he's spent an ungodly amount of time setting up district maps for all 107 legislative districts in the state: 65 State House, 35 State Senate, and 7 Congressional districts. For the moment, only Districts 3, 6, and 9 are up, but more are to follow. Sooner than later, he'll be adding the precinct information as well. It's unbelievable that this hasn't been available before now.

I've spoken with Dennis, and frankly, he's more committed than most would-be Bonus Babies to working for the party after the state elections. If we're looking for people to reward and encourage, we could do a lot worse than to start with him.

January 29, 2009

Blog Talk Radio

Tuesday night we chatted with Jan Tyler, who blogs on election integrity at her own site, and at Jan had something to say not only about her own work, but also about the trend towards paper ballots and the risks inherent therein. We also touched on the Democrats' blocking of registration and voter reform here in Colorado.

Our second guest was State Senator Greg Brophy, Assistant Minority Leader and scourge of coyotes everywhere. We talked about his efforts to forestall the hammer coming down on Colorado's energy industries, and proposed protections against eminent domain abuse. We also asked him, as we ask all Republicans who come on the show, what three core principles should the Republican party place front-and -center?

Listen here, or subscribe on iTunes.

Join us next week as we talk to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies about the upcoming elections in Iraq, and where we stand in the fight against Islamist Supremacy.

In the second half, we talk with reporter Mike Saccone of the Grand Junction Sentinel about the Western Slope, the state legislature, and the state of newspapers not named "Rocky."

Listen live at Blog Talk Radio

January 22, 2009

"Core Functions of Government"

Yesterday, Senator Moe Keller, who has been working with the Department of Revenue in dealing with Colorado's $600 million budget shortfall for this year, actually said that they were being "forced to examine the core functions of government."

Nonsense. So far, nothing has been considered non-core enough to be cut to zero. In fact, as she pointed out later on in her testimony, 17 or 18 departments receive under 2% of their overall funding from discretionary spending, so cutting their money from the general fund entirely wouldn't barely affect their operations. Clearly, those departments are not subject to this committee's appraisal of the "functions of government."

On the other hand, this kind of rhetoric coming from a Democrat is a gift to Republicans, who ought to be talking this way.

January 20, 2009

Dogs Are On Our Side...

...but coyotes are not.

Coyotes, once the scorn of the West and a widespread target for eradication, are thriving along the Front Range and raising concerns about their place in cities and suburbs.

On Thursday, a pair of coyotes attacked a woman in Broomfield who was playing Frisbee with her dog. In Centennial and other metro areas, increasing numbers of residents are complaining about pets being killed and coyotes being overly aggressive.

"We are seeing an increase in coyotes going after pets and increased sightings," said Jennifer Churchill, a Colorado Division of Wildlife spokeswoman.

The division does not track population numbers of coyotes, Churchill said, but based on increased sightings, officials believe their numbers are way up.

"They're pretty much everywhere in the metro area right now," Churchill said.

Now, I'm as fond of Wild Kingdom as the next guy, but this is a classic example of people not taking wild animals seriously enough until they start behaving like, well, wild animals. I mean, not everyone has an Old Yeller hanging around to even the odds, although I like to think Sage would still be up to the task.

Fortunately, our newly minted State Senator, the rebbitzen Joyce Foster, was there to help out, with a bill imploring the Division of Wildlife to, well, do something.

Sage and the Ur-Cujo out there may share a common ancestor, but coyotes have no business living in a populated area. If they really are moving into my district, I guess that Ted Harvey's right, and maybe it is time to start packing while walking.

January 15, 2009

Borrow In Haste, Repay At Leisure

Colorado Republicans have proposed mortgaging government property to pay for transportation projects, up to $500 million.

The Democrats, naturally, want to raise your taxes permanently instead, and would net only half the amount the first year.

Right now, Colorado general revenue bonds, which are basically secured only by the moral obligation of the state to pay its debts, are paying about 1.5% yield to maturity. Paid back over 15 years, that's about $35 million a year in payments, or about $6 a person per year, for $500 million.

The Democrats want to secure a permanent funding stream out of your pockets, at about 4 times that rate, in the middle of what they've consistently called the worst economy since the Great Depression.

The Republicans want to borrow at a ridiculously low interest rate, heading into what will likely be an inflationary environment sometime in the next two years. That inflation will only increase borrowing costs.

The Democrats want to build in more structural spending, and then, when inflation eats away at the value of the taxes they're collecting, complain about shortfalls and raise rates again.

And this is without ditching TABOR.

January 7, 2009

Back Into the Fray

I am announcing my candidacy for a Vice Chairmanship of the Denver County Republican Party. The party plans to alter its by-;aws to create up to three co-equal Vice Chairmanships, with the intent of increasing participation.

I am eager to be a part of rebuilding our party in Denvr and across the state. What follows is part agenda and part platform, developed in consultation with current Vice Chairman Ryan Call. Ryan is running for the chairmanship of the Denver Republicans; he is immensely qualified for that role, and I look forward to serving with him on the Executive Committee.

Our job is to help elect Republicans. It is not to dictate the ideology or the platform of the party to the membership. It is to help develop candidates, and to provide the tools for those candidates.

That will begin with presenting core Republican, Constitutional values to the Denver electorate, in a way that is appealing to them. Denver is a challenging electoral environment for Republicans, but our ideas actually deliver the goods that liberals say they want to. We can and must let Denverites know that their true interests lie with the freeing of their own talents, energy, and abilities.

Much of the buzz from the last campaign came from the use of technology and social networking to organiza Obama's supporters. In addition, alternative media - especially with the likely imminent demise of the Rocky - will become even more important in getting out message out. My own experience as a candidate, using blogs, online radio, Facebook, and other social networking devices, as well as my professional career as a web developer, will enable me to help the party into this arena.

We need to be able to run candidates in all districts, at all levels. The party can also be involved in building that farm system. Running for office is a large, complex job, and it gets moreso the higher the position. It can encourage candidates to run for local, non-partisan offices, to get their feet wet and to learn what's involved. In can be involved in identifying energetic candidates who are willing to sacrifice for the unknown.

It also means providing

  • Visibility: Lists of neighborhood and community organizations, along with meeting schedules, where prospective candidates can begin to make themselves known, and to listen to community concerns
  • Money: Denver will always be on its own, but we can improve our internal fundraising
  • Help for self-organizing grass-roots groups; the party can serve as a traffic cop, directing interested activists to grass-roots groups on like-minded activists; it should not and cannot control those groups; it can and should encourage them
  • Guidance: Replicating the national Party's book on compaign structure and deadlines, allowing for what is now Election Month, rather than Election Day
  • Support: Connecting candidates with existing legislators to help them better connect with their prospective electorate

Developing a farm team means making the most use of your talent. We need to reach out to a voter base of many ethnicities, and multiple ideologies. The party leadership should be able to work with - and respect - all elements of the party who are willing to work within the party.

All of this means hard work by the Executive Committee. It means a presence at every monthly District meeting, constant communication, and direct communication with precinct officers, candidates, and office-holders. It means planning, But it's the only way we'll be able to rebuild our party here in Denver.

I look forward to being a part of that, and I hope that the party will see fit to grant me that responsibility.

The Post's "Moral Obligations"

These apaprently include paying for everyone else's college education.

These don't include examining how colleges are spending that portion of your taxes they end up with.

They do include raising your taxes.

State legislators must stand together on the steps of the state Capitol and make a compelling case to voters for a fix to the nonsensical budgetary constraints that Colorado government lives by.

Remember, Referendum C brought in far more money than expected, which the Democrats in charge of the legislature since 2004 plowed into long-term spending. The state government has been able to keep every dime it's brought in since 2006.

Some of that money is dedicated to certain uses. If the Post and its Democratic allies want to defund certain programs, they should name them.

Barring that, there are no budgetary constraints, only revenue constraints. Even last year's mercifully-dead Amendment 59 would have retained a taxpayer veto on tax increases, at least until they could persuade us to forgo those. How inconvenient for them to have to make the case for unlimited taxation power all at once, their surrender-by-degrees strategy having failed.

December 31, 2008

Hamas's Friends in Colorado

Last night, Denver had its very own pro-Hamas rally on the steps of the state capitol building, mostly involving sign-waving, chanting, and evening prayers. Yes, organized in some small part by, well, she who doesn't use that last name any more since she got married.

"We have a neighbor who is active with Hamas. The entire neighborhood has evacuated. They are afraid of being attacked."

Good for them. I have an even better idea.

Shemsadeen Ben-Masaud, a youth director with the Muslim American Society, led the crowd in chants: "Hey, hey, ho, ho - the occupation has got to go" as well as "Long live Palestine."

Ah, yes, that Muslim American Society. Maybe that explains the chants the Rocky didn't mention:

They keep this sort of thing up and Islam is going to have an image problem.

As well as some of the other signs that somehow didn't make it into the paper.

Because nothing says, "a free people," like a bloody red fist punching through the bottom of their flag:

Ah, the police here aren't like the police in Gaza:

For the Powerline guys, yes, it seems as though the domestic political affiliations and hopes are the same here as in Minneapolis, just two sides of the same sign:

The obligatory appropriation of Jewish holidays and horrors:

Which for some reason isn't as bad as appropriating their food. Look, sushi, pizza, and hamburgers aren't American, either, but you don't see those countries going out and attacking the US, do you?

No American flags in evidence, for some reason, but the baby blues were there for all to see:

As I said, a fair amount of the chanting was in Arabic, there were public prayers, and there are plans for Friday public prayers to be held there either this Friday or on an upcoming Friday. Not a prayer vigil. Friday public prayers, as in, "which way to the wudu?" prayers.

But...I didn't think this had anything to do with religion.

December 21, 2008

Colorado Tuition Rises - No Focus on Spending

So, once again, students in the Colorado university system and their parents will be asked to pay more for tuition.  The Rocky slips this university talking point into its report:

Low state funding has driven heavy tuition increases every year since the beginning of the decade.

Of course, how the money's being spent escapes all attention. Good luck figuring out how much it takes to educate a 4-year student at CU; the university's allegedly been trying for years to figure that out, and still can't provide a number.

The fact is that universities themselves are increasingly perceived as irrelevant, even as their degrees become an ever-more important entry ticket to the professions. It's the price they're now paying for having assumed their importance for so many years, rather than having earned it.

December 8, 2008

The Problem With Experts

The problem with experts is that they're awful at predicting the things they're supposed to predict.  Nassim Taleb makes this point in both Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan.  The problem with reporters is that they don't bother to check how well the experts have done in the past.

The CU Boulder's Leeds Business School released its Business Economic Forecast for 2009.  Both the Post and the Rocky reported on it, doing little more than repeating the predictions.  Now, the whole thing's available for download here.

Looking back over the 2005-2007 predictions, they've done all right, but nothing spectacular.  And this year's prediction spent time on the housing market, but completely missed the financial crisis and the mortgage industry's spillover into the rest of the economy.  The 2008 forecast doesn't even mention the word "mortgage" outside of the housing industry survey.

In terms of percentage change in total employment, they were off by 8% in 2005, 1% in 2006, and 17% in 2007.  That's not bad, but their sector-by-sector results aren't so good.  They've consistently underestimated the Mining sector's growth, as well as government growth.  They're almost never under 10% relative error on these estimates.  When the change is near 0, that's going to happen, but of the 33 sector predictions over the last 3 years, only 6 have been under +/-1000.

I saw the same thing when I was valuing a construction company at the brokerage.  The American Institute of Architects tries to predict construction activity, but their sector predictions are almost never with 10% of the actual number. 

We use these numbers because we don't think we have anything better.  That doesn't mean they're actually good.

December 5, 2008

Are Coloradoans Stingy?

"Stingy," was what the UN deputy Secretary General called Americans for our response to the Asian tsunami a few years ago.  His comparison conveniently ignored our private contributions, which dwarf anything governments have to offer, especially in Red States.  (It also ignored the fact that the US Navy was the only instrument delivering anything approaching actual aid, as opposed to notional aid, which consists of meetings about aid rather than aid itself.)

So it should be a matter of concern when the Colorado Non-Profit Association issues a report claiming large declines in Colorado's charitable giving between 2005 and 2006.  The average family's charitable giving declined from $4075 to $4046.

But what goes unmentioned is that, according to the Tax Foundation, the average per capita state and local tax burden rose from 3.1% to 3.4%, and from $3815 to $4185, more than 10 times the putative decline in giving.  The idea that Coloradoans might, in part, have been giving less voluntarily because they were giving more mandatorily doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone.

There are also significant methodological questions.  They claim that Colorado has the 5th highest income, adjusted for cost of living, in the country.  But when I use the BEA's personal income numbers,adjusted by the same state Cost of Living Index they use, Colorado comes in 15th, not 5th.

The study fails to account for volunteer hours contributed.  It's understandable that an organization that defines well-being at least in part by how many paid staff they can afford to hire, would minimize the contributions of volunteers.

The Denver Post's story asks none of these questions, and completely ignores the tax issue and the relevant methodological issues, instead amounting to a press release for the state's non-profits.  Since they tend to support any change in tax policy which allows them to lobby a few state officals rather than compete for fundaising among the state's citizenry, this report and article will almost certainly be cited as the basis for further proposed tax increases.

September 26, 2008

Way To Match Costs There, Denver Water

So we get this again:

Colorado's largest water utility will raise rates 7.5 percent next year as it seeks to offset rising operating costs and soft water sales among its drought-conscious customers.


The rate increase is designed to cover an estimated $18.5 million shortfall next year, due in part to rising costs and lower water sales.

Since the drought of 2002 struck, the giant utility has been trying to restructure its rate system, charging more to people who use large quantities of water.

So in a state with 140% snowpack last year, where we let 1 million acre-feet of water leave the state in a normal year, we still can't get the Powers That Be to admit that we need more storage. More conservation isn't the solution this year - we had plenty of water. In fact, we've just been told that conservation is the problem.

No. The problems are twofold. First, we need more storage to be able to ride out actual drought years, and to account for the fact that rains may hit the state unevenly.

Second, Denver Water needs to match its revenue structure with its cost structure. Something like 90% of its costs are fixed, while something like 90% of its revenues are variable. There's no way they're going to close that gap by reducing consumption and reducing new investment in "developing water."

Can't anyone here play this game?

September 9, 2007

Down The Memory Hole

Never's a long time, but, "Never Enough" seems appropriate for the state Democrats and their enablers over at the Denver Post. This morning, the paper's Local & Western Politics Blog runs an uncritical story about the desire of state Democrats to raise taxes again ("Seventeen tax proposals under discussion in Colorado").

The two liberal groups quoted, the Bell Policy Center and the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, are not identified as such. Members of Bell campagned with Ref C supporters a couple of years ago. And the CFPI's parent institute, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, describes its mission as: "The Colorado Center on Law and Policy's mission is to promote justice and economic security for all Coloradans, particularly lower income people. CCLP advocates on behalf of the the poor, working poor and other vulnerable populations though legislative, administrative and legal advocacy." My guess is you'll find about as many free-market types there as you'd find Republicans in CU's Ethnic Studies faculty.

Meanwhile, they quote House Minority Leader Mike May, briefly suggesting other revenues, and former Republican Senator Hank Brown, now Presdient of CU, crying poor for the University again.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is given whole paragraphs (and backing by Bell's "outreach director," to make his case for suspending constitutional restrictions in order to overhaul the state's tax code. Naturally, the fact that he won't discuss the nature of that overhaul in advance of voters approving the suspension goes unnoticed.

Also unnoticed is the fact of Referendum C, and the fact that tax revenues, far exceeding proponents' projections, aren't being used as promised. CFPI is full of dire claims for Colorado spending:

The state ranks 49th in the amount it spends per capita covering low-income families on Medicaid. It is 48th in state spending for higher education, 39th in state highway spending per capita and in the bottom third in per-capita investment in K-12 education, according to the institute.

Remember, these are the same folks who brought you the debunked claim (parrotted in at least 49 other states), that Colorado ranked 49th in state spending on education. Needless to say, these claims also go unchallenged.

Well, at least now we know their platform and talking points.

September 5, 2007


That giant sucking sound you hear is the last of my free time leaving the building. I've signed up to be one of the guest bloggers on the Denver Post's Gang of Four blog, on its PoliticsWest site run by Stephen Keating. Stephen's basically a conservative, which explains why the site is fairly balanced.

Another Virginian, from Tidewater no less, Jim Spencer, will blog from the left.

The idea is to provide a western, and Colorado, perspective on politics both national and local, through this election cycle. Right now's kind of a probationary period, so stop by and see what you think.

September 3, 2007

Steamboat Springs

I don't want to take the Super 8 as in any way representative of Steamboat Springs as a whole. For instance, I'm sure that if I had paid a little more, I could have found a place where the cleaning lady spoke English, and it wasn't a 5-minute conversation to find the ice machine. Try as I might (< Star Trek computer voice >working...working< /star trek computer voice >), it's been a while since high school, and the word for, "ice" just wasn't there any more.

A few hundred yard down the road, there's this - thing - called the "Gates of Asopus," of which for some reason, the City of Steamboat Springs seems proud of having acquired. All the more peculiar because it seems to be related to the "Path of Betrayal" followed by the Persians at Thermopyle. All the more peculiar because the artist seems to take the Liebeskindian approach to his art: much of his sculpture looks like a lot of the rest of his sculpture.

Ah well, today's another day, and another drive.

August 28, 2007

Silver Dollar Lake

Just In! From this Sunday's jaunt up to Silver Dollar Lake near Guanella Pass. As always, click to enlarge.


January 14, 2007

Water, Water Everywhere

Since all this snow started (and we got a little more today), I've been asking when we'll see the newspaper articles reminding us that it doesn't really help us all that much.

If you had today in the pool, you won!

The Denver Post reminds us that just because we have lots of water, that doesn't mean that we really have lots of water:

"If there were no more storms for this area, we'd probably be better off than we were during some of the worst drought years, but it doesn't exactly keep us out of the woods," he said.

For big metropolitan water users, the snow that's fallen across the Front Range over the past month doesn't guarantee summertime water supplies. Spring snows are more of a boon because they replenish reservoirs drawn down during winter months, water managers say.

When we get those spring snows, I'm sure the Post will explain that it's great that all those new canal and riverboat services have started, but that we're facing an uncertain fall.

All of which means that rain comes where and when you least expect it, so they best thing to do is to have lots and lots of new reservoirs ready and waiting for it. So of course, that's why the Post and the Democrats opposed Referendum A a couple of years back, which would have built just those.

The argument at the time was that the governor's bill wasn't specific enough, and certainly the Governor Bill obliged by specifically failing to try again - ever. If anything signifies the lack of confidence Owens had under the surface, the water issue was it. The left tries referendum after referendum, rewording them until either the voters or the courts agree. Owens shrugged his shoulders and moved on to raising my taxes.

Now, we'll probably be informed that all the best spots for reservoirs just happen to be in the way of wind farm proposals.

January 9, 2007


So tell me, when exactly did Denver turn into Narnia? This Friday's scheduled snowstorm has been scaled back to 6", courtesy of some arctic air that's apparently going to stick around for some weekend skiing. Normally, this stuff melts off, but with the bulldozers piling it up in the streets, some of the ice hills around Crestmoor Park will be there until March.

Of course, none of this would be happening if we had signed Kyoto.

Fortunately, my Dad was able to drive back to Geo'gia before the wind swept across Broomfield, turning Boulder into an island. We drove up to Boulder, and then into the foothills near Ward and Nederland on Sunday, and the wind was blurring the mountains even at a distance. Yesterday, it slid down the foothills onto the front range and closed down US-36. I've seen this effect from an office in Broomfield before, and it's pretty spectacular.

The other frightful event today was the swearing in of Bill Ritter as governor. I wish him well, really, and I think he's more of the Romanoff mold than the Fitzgerald. This isn't a day for sourness; it's a day to note that we can have a peaceful transfer of power from one party to the other, and not have half the counties in the state setting up roadblocks and designing uniforms. The color may be blue, but for a long while yet, the institutions are still strong.

August 6, 2006

Glenwood Springs's Coolest Coffee Shop

So we're out walking yesterday, when we see a guy coming towards us on a Segway. I thought they had all been recalled, but it turns out that, at $5K a pop, they're available. Now, they're available for tours.

The proprietor is Joel Karr, who turns out to be the brother of Eric, a friend of ours back in Denver. So if you're in Glenwood Springs, stop by, get a cup of coffee, check your email, and take a Segway tour of town. Bring the dog, too.


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud