- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Reporter-Herald, Aug. 2, on affordable housing:

Affordable housing suggests an arrangement that is not economically sustainable. That is because houses and apartments that are sold or leased for less than market rate will not bring an attractive return for a developer, who can choose more-lucrative projects.

But when vacancy rates are narrow and housing sales and prices are spiking, residents whose income and resources don’t keep pace with a growing economy can be squeezed out of the market. That means they might need subsidies to be able to afford to live in the communities in which they work - or that they must live in more-affordable communities and commute to the wealthier communities in which they work. Think of Colorado mountain towns, some of which are affordable villages for those who work in luxurious ski resorts.

However, Front Range communities, big and small, that have grown up around diverse economies and populations should not become enclaves of wealth, with affordable communities distant. They must grow and thrive in a way that allows people across the economic spectrum to live and participate.

There are several ways which the problem can be addressed.

The best is to encourage the education and advancement of the workforce, so that through enterprise, hard work and saving, residents achieve a level of savings and income that allows them to afford a place to live. This investment in self and in the community is a long term solution.

That does not come easily, especially when home prices increase 11 percent in one year and rent increases outpace even that. Residents fall on hard times. The kinds of service jobs that must exist in a community might not pay enough for an apartment. Young employees just starting out might find themselves priced out of the market. Other residents, such as artists or musicians, might have a difficult time affording places to live.

Professionals in the economic development sector say that maintaining vital communities, with primary jobs and a robust entrepreneurial sector requires more than offering cash incentives or tax breaks to companies large and small. It requires attention to how their employees will live, work and play. It also requires a commitment to the creative sector to nurture the inventors whose work might spark the next leap in a city’s vitality.

One such effort was unveiled Monday in Loveland. Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a statewide initiative that addresses affordable housing and the creative sector. Space to Create offers a framework for public/private partnerships to enhance rural communities that have not been part of the economic boom on Colorado’s Front Range.

The purpose of the program is to develop affordable housing and work space for artists and arts organizations. Using Loveland’s new arts-focused campus as its guide, the project will develop affordable housing, galleries, work spaces and community gathering areas for artists and art organization in rural communities around Colorado. In some cases, this can man the redevelopment of areas within communities that have deteriorated over years.

This kind of effort deserves thoughtful consideration from Coloradans who are seeking to develop housing that residents can afford. The planning and development of affordable housing should be done in a way that uplifts residents and brings value to a community.

That, in the long run, is what can make it attractive to all.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1DusTeu


The Durango Herald, Aug. 3, on reforming the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper kicked off a statewide tour Friday speaking in Frisco and Leadville about his plan to change the so-called Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights or TABOR. He has the right idea.

The governor wants to exempt what is called the hospital provider fee from state revenue counted under TABOR. Doing so would keep that revenue under TABOR limits and allow the state to keep $200 million more, which Hickenlooper says would go to schools and roads.

TABOR, passed as a ballot initiative in 1992, is best known for its requirement that tax increases must be approved by the voters. And if that were all there is to it, there would be few problems. In fact, though, TABOR is a complex and multifaceted measure intended in large part to strangle state government. And on that level, it works.

In addition to making it difficult to raise taxes, TABOR limits the amount of money the state can take in - even under existing tax rates. Any revenue that exceeds the TABOR-imposed limits must be refunded to the taxpayers. That not only interferes with recovering from economic downturns, it also makes it hard to enact new programs or even keep up with old ones.

State government cannot indulge in deficit spending. Nor can it close prisons willy-nilly or do away with the State Patrol. Limiting state spending by any meaningful amount of necessity affects schools and roads. Rebates in particular must come out of the General Fund, which directly affects those areas.

The interaction of those facts with TABOR means that without something like what Hickenlooper is proposing, Colorado could see further cuts to K-12 spending, possibly more tuition hikes for higher education and continued inaction on fixing roads and bridges - all while issuing tax rebates. Exempting the hospital provider fee would simply remove the need for issuing rebates by giving the state more room to move within the TABOR limit.

The Colorado Health Care Afforability Act was signed into law in April 2009. It authorized the state’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to collect a hospital provider fee from hospitals, not to exceed 6 percent of net patient revenue. The fees collected are matched by federal dollars and go to help offset the cost of Medicaid, indigent care, hospital quality incentive payments and the Child Health Plan Plus program.

By boosting payments for state-funded care, the provider fee also helps reduce the “cost shift,” in which hospitals are forced to make up for low reimbursement rates for treating the indigent or uninsured by charging more for treating the well-insured. The fee lessens the need for that, and with that, benefits everyone.

Through 2014, the hospital provider fee has increased Colorado hospital reimbursements by a total of $802 million. It is expected to bring in $670 million in fees next year. But it does not spend General Fund revenue and as such is a logical fee to exempt from the TABOR limits.

Colorado’s constitutional ban on deficit spending prohibits state government from writing checks it cannot cover. But as any business owner can attest, deferred maintenance or a failure to invest are also effective ways to fall behind. And that is what Colorado has been doing, with K-12 schools, higher education and transportation infrastructure.

Hickenlooper’s plan to exempt the hospital provider fee from TABOR limits is not magic. It will not undo the fundamental problems inherent in TABOR, nor will it solve all the states’ funding issues.

That said, $200 million is still a meaningful amount of money and well worth the effort. The governor is right to pursue it.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1IpFQDm


The Denver Post, Aug. 3, on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan:

Early reactions to the Obama administration’s final Clean Power Plan, announced Monday, run the gamut. The plan could either be A) painless to implement and a boon to public health and the climate or B) a costly millstone on the economy that will jeopardize the electricity grid.

Amazingly, most of those reaching one of these polar-opposite judgments did so long before the final announcement even took place. How could they be so sure?

They couldn’t be. The Clean Power Plan has become yet another important policy on which public discussion is degraded by an onslaught of political spin.

The truth is the Clean Power Plan, which mandates a 32 percent overall reduction in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 - and somewhat more for Colorado - is not going to cripple the economy, although some states will have a harder time than others.

But the plan, which will require massive investment to retire many coal-fired plants nationally and build new infrastructure, will not be painless, either. The investment will be rolled into electricity rates. It’s hard to see how that can occur and the plan also reduce the average American’s monthly electricity bill by 7 percent in 2030, as the Obama administration projects.

Gov. John Hickenlooper termed the goals “ambitious” but promised the state would rise to the challenge.

The final plan is a clear improvement in one respect from last year’s draft. It extends by two years what was an overly ambitious deadline for states to meet their first targets to reduce carbon emissions.

On the downside, according to Larry Wolk, chief of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, “We didn’t get as much credit as we were hoping for” in terms of the clean-energy efforts this state made before 2012.

“It’s attainable,” he said of the final plan, “but it’s going to be challenging.”

Implementing the project is going to be an immensely complex undertaking without precedent in terms of resource planning on a statewide basis.

As the Hickenlooper administration moves forward, it is essential that it adopt a process that is as open and transparent as possible so ratepayers can be confident that deals won’t be struck behind closed doors.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/1eQfWA6


The Gazette, Aug. 5, on Colorado immigration law:

The tragic murder of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco should put Colorado’s law enforcers on notice. They need to cooperate with federal colleagues, as public safety is a higher cause than jurisdictional provincialism or “sanctuary” practices based in feel-good sentiment.

San Francisco authorities released suspect Francisco Sanchez, 45, just three months before Steinle’s murder. They had arrested him on drug charges that were dismissed. They sprung Sanchez despite a request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain him until the agency could take the suspect into custody. Sanchez, previously convicted of seven felonies, had immigrated back to the United States after multiple deportations. He had no business roaming free on American soil.

Had San Francisco jailers cooperated with federal authorities in March, it is unlikely Sanchez would have been free the day Steinle died.

San Francisco, Denver, Aurora and about 27 other U.S. cities have proactive, written policies that deemphasize or prohibit local police from actively enforcing federal immigration law. They are known as “sanctuary cities,” a phrase with no basis in law. The Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform reports more than 200 jurisdictions nationwide - including cities, counties and states - have sanctuary policies “in which protection of illegal aliens, even criminal illegal aliens, from lawful deportation is placed above the safety of American citizens.”

Denver’s police manual says “Denver Police officers shall not initiate police actions with the primary objective of discovering the immigration status of a person.” But the policy also requires jail personnel to report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities if they are arrested on other charges.

Similar policies have been enacted by at least 10 Colorado counties and all Colorado jails. Gazette research found that most city and county law enforcement agencies have practices nearly identical to Denver’s written policy, whether de facto or codified. That’s because local authorities do not enforce federal laws, cannot be compelled to do so and typically get punished for trying.

A 2014 policy memorandum from the Obama administration’s secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson, emphasized the voluntary nature of local cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio was sued in federal court for enforcing immigration laws.

“The American public does not want local jails holding onto people without some sort of due process, so we are not going to do it,” said El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder.

He said El Paso County’s immigration practices are identical to Denver’s. Until recently, a state law required local law enforcement to hold people suspected of immigration violations while federal authorities decided whether to arrest them. The legislature repealed the law, SB-90, in 2013 because counties were getting sued for civil rights abuses. Arapahoe County settled for $30,000 after a woman sought help in a domestic violence dispute and wound up detained on a three-day immigration hold. Sheriffs opposed SB-90 because ICE seldom came for immigration suspects.

The whole mess is one part of the country’s large-scale immigration fiasco that harms everyone - including immigrants.

Though local authorities cannot enforce federal law, they can and should cooperate with federal authorities who ask for help. But federal authorities must document their intentions and follow through. They cannot ask sheriffs to incur costly civil rights liabilities for nothing.

“When we arrest someone, we absolutely check immigration status,” Elder said. “If we believe a suspect is undocumented, we absolutely contact ICE. If they fax us a warrant, we will hold the suspect for them. We just need them to fax a warrant. We are not going to detain people for days on end without the proper paperwork. Not in this country.”

We have immigration laws for good reasons. Among them are the fundamental rights of people like Kathryn Steinle, who deserve protection from convicts like Francisco Sanchez - a man who should not have been free the day of that murder.

Civil rights are important. Among them are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - all of which Kathryn Steinle no longer has. All law enforcement officers swear to protect and serve the general public, which sometimes means cooperating with federal authorities. That means Colorado law enforcement should report inmates suspected of immigration violations, without exception. If federal authorities commit to assuming custody, in writing, locals should detain them and help make it so.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1P6F6aD

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