Roundup of editorials from across Colorado
Denver Post, Dec. 24
Local reaction to the news that Colorado added more than 100,000 people to its population in a single year — for the first time since the tech boom at the turn of the century — no doubt ranged from groans to cautious acceptance to outright approval.
But whatever you think of the state’s robust population growth, there is little doubt it will put added strain on our already challenged infrastructure, particularly in the areas of transportation and water, while adding pressure to the price of housing.
Over time, as the private sector responds to housing demand, price increases should moderate. And that process may already have begun. But improving infrastructure really will require a boost in public investment at some point — and finding that investment will be one of the bigger challenges for political leaders in coming years.
Since it’s Christmas, however, let’s dwell on the positive. People aren’t just moving to Colorado because of its grand vistas and pleasant weather, although those no doubt are factors. They’re coming because this state has been a strong center of job creation, with a government that by and large has been friendly to investment and entrepreneurs. Maintaining that environment will be another political challenge in the future.
Finally, it’s heartening that Colorado for the most part seems to have weathered the downturn in oil prices, which basically overlapped this latest year of robust population growth. That’s a tribute to an economy that is far more diversified than it was in the 1980s.
When crude oil prices plunged in the mid-‘80s, by contrast, Denver’s economy quickly tanked, too. Foreclosures spread and unemployment spiked. Better positioned today, Denver does not appear fated to repeat that experience.
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Dec. 27
The Colorado Open Records Act was last updated so long ago — before the advent of modern database management — that it doesn’t account for the capabilities of today’s technology — much less tomorrow’s.
As a result, governments often use gaps in the law to hand over stacks of paper or a static PDFs instead of digital data sets that could be searched, sorted and aggregated on a computer.
It’s then up to the requester to input information by hand into a new spreadsheet so it can be analyzed.
“In essence, governments are forcing citizens to re-create public records that already exist and were generated through the expenditure of taxpayer funds,” Jeffrey Roberts, the executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, observed in a recent column calling for a CORA overhaul.
A section of the open records law amended to address access to public records “kept in miniaturized or digital form” is so outdated and non-specific “that it’s practically useless,” Roberts argues.
That has to change. There’s so much public information about state and local government stored in databases and spreadsheets. Most of it could be shared upon request with a few keystrokes. But requesting databases and spreadsheets “is a crapshoot in Colorado,” as Roberts describes it, because the law doesn’t specify a format for delivery of digital information and doesn’t provide any guidance on how to exclude confidential information.
“If the data set you want contains something confidential, like Social Security numbers, you might be denied access to all of the information,” Roberts said. “Instead of excluding the confidential field and releasing the remainder, the government chooses to release no records at all.”
Two state lawmakers are planning to introduce a bill in 2016 that would guarantee a right to obtain public records in a “digitized database format” if that’s how government maintains the records. Any confidential fields would be removed.
That would eliminate the handy excuse that governments are not required to manipulate existing records in response to a request.
A change would ensure that public information is truly open for inspection. If it has to be re-created to be analyzed, the government is choosing to preserve a barrier to the public’s right to know that modern technology has largely eliminated.
MARIJUANA AND BANKING
Durango Herald, Dec. 29
Sorting out the conflict between federal and state laws concerning marijuana and banking is a task that should be taken up by the next Congress. The current situation serves no one, while endangering business owners and employees. It needs to change.
The case of a Colorado credit union, set up expressly to work with the burgeoning marijuana industry, illustrates the problem. The Fourth Corner Credit Union asked a federal court to order the Federal Reserve to accept money from marijuana shops into the nation’s financial system. In response, U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson pointed to the law, saying, “If I were in Congress, I’d vote for you, but I’ve got to do the job of a federal judge here.”
As the judge suggested, it falls to Congress to straighten this out.
Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 in 2012, and with that, legalized recreational marijuana. (Medical marijuana had been legal for more than a decade.) As such, it is now legal in this state to have, use and sell pot. There are some restrictions, mainly limiting it to adults and banning public use, but marijuana is as legal as alcohol or tobacco.
At the federal level, however, marijuana remains illegal. The Obama administration effectively chose to look the other way if states legalized weed, but under federal law, pot is classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, right along with heroin.
That has several consequences. For one thing, the Obama administration’s decision not to enforce federal law banning marijuana is not binding on any future president. The United States will have a new president on Jan. 20, 2017, and with the law already on the books, he or she can choose to end legal marijuana entirely. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, seeking the Republican nomination for president, has said that if elected he would do just that.
The existing federal law has other ramifications as well. Industries with significant federal involvement – health care, for example, or transportation – must adhere to federal law when it comes to marijuana. In those cases, the fact that Colorado legalized pot does not explain away a positive drug test.
The most pressing conflict, however, shows up in banking. And it is there that the uncertain legal status of marijuana poses the greatest danger.
Banks are regulated by the federal government and must abide by federal law, including the one that says marijuana is illegal. In addition, a number of federal rules were enacted specifically to keep drug dealers from moving or laundering drug proceeds. And, in the case of Fourth Corner Credit Union, the Federal Reserve has said that drug money — however legal under state law — is not welcome in the federal financial system.
What that means is that marijuana shops cannot take credit cards or checks, only cash. That makes those businesses tempting targets for exactly the wrong sort and sets up a dangerous situation.
It does not need to be that way. Keeping legal marijuana money out of banks does not deter pot sales or use. It does not limit the marijuana trade. It only inconveniences and endangers people engaged in a licensed business specifically approved by Colorado voters.
There is no reason to continue that situation. Congress should act.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, Dec. 29
Just as Colorado Republicans were looking for a strong 2016 cause, radical environmentalists showed up with a gift three days before Christmas.
Coloradans Resisting Energy Development, or CREED, filed a wish list with the Colorado Legislative Council on Dec. 22. It was lost to the media’s holiday staffing and pre-Christmas distractions.
The group wants up to 11 ballot measures that would jeopardize property rights, jobs and economic stability throughout the state. Even one or a few of these anti-fracking measures on next fall’s ballot would inspire an insurgence of energy money, directly or indirectly aiding pro-energy candidates. Given Colorado’s role as a swing state, any of these measures could influence the presidential election.
Though Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has tirelessly defended fracking, the industry depends on Republicans for the bulk of its support.
CREED, an umbrella of sorts for anti-energy activists, wants an outright ban on fracking with a proposal known as Initiative 62. In addition to banning all fracking, the measure would prevent compensation of mineral owners for financial losses incurred by the elimination of fracking.
The measure states, in part: “The prohibition of hydraulic fracturing is not a taking of private property and does not require the payment of compensation pursuant to sections 14 and 15 of Article II of the Colorado Constitution.”
In other words, they want eminent- domain-by-mob without due process or just compensation. The U.S. Constitution, thankfully, prohibits voters from taking private property or negating its value. Voters have no more authority to eliminate mineral rights than to end same-sex marriage. Federal law will prevail.
Initiative 63 would establish an “Environmental Bill of Rights,” suggesting local governments have all sorts of newfound authority to ban energy production on private property. Initiative 65 would impose 4,000-foot fracking setbacks from buildings and homes.
The other initiatives would create variations on setbacks and new “rights” for local governments to seize control of land and minerals owned by private individuals and businesses. Of course, governments don’t have rights. Individuals have rights; governments have authority that is limited by those rights. Not one of the 11 proposals falls within boundaries of common sense or constitutional compliance.
As explained by ColoradoPeakPolitics.com, after anti-fracking activists proposed 2,000-foot setbacks, the analysts at Commonsense Policy Roundtable calculated the costs to Colorado’s economy. They included: 50 percent fewer drilling locations; 36,000 fewer jobs in the first five years; 49,000 fewer jobs on average over 25 years; $160 billion in GDP lost through 2040; $6.4 billion in GDP lost each year on average through 2040; $110 billion in personal income lost through 2040; $273 million in lost tax revenue in the first five years, and $439 million lost per year by 2040.
The outlook would be considerably worse with the proposed 4,000-foot setbacks or all-out fracking prohibition.
As pointed out in this column Sunday, more than 300,000 new residents have made Colorado home in just the past two years. Young people moving here want opportunity for decades to come, not prospects of unemployment, poverty and sagging tax revenues for the appeasement of environmental ideologues.
Colorado rightly prioritizes environmental protection, in part to guard its tourism economy. Fracking has lived in harmony with the state’s fierce protection of wildlife, forests, water and other natural resources for more than 40 years.
For pro-energy politicians, these proposals are manna from way out left. They are too extreme to succeed but scary enough to motivate common-sense voters to support candidates who want jobs, economic growth and all safe conventional, modern and future sources of power.
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