- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Denver Post, July 12, on fixing the state’s pension plan:

As November’s election nears, politicians will remind us how much they love children. But kissing babies is not enough. Colorado voters should demand ideas for fixing the state’s troubled pension plan, the Public Employees’ Retirement Association.

Children aren’t worried about retirement systems. That is precisely why politicians and bureaucrats can claim concern for young generations while acting as if nothing is wrong with a massive state program that is certain to burden them in their working years.

Last year, PERA netted only 1.5 percent gains on its investments. It is not an issue of terrible investment strategies or poor management. Given low interest rates and the general state of the market, 1.5 percent is not a failing grade. Some argue we are fortunate the investments did not lose money.

Regardless of cause, the 1.5 percent return is alarming for a system that needs to gain investment returns of at least 7.5 percent each year to be fully funded by the late 2050s.

And here’s what’s even more troubling. PERA management acted like the 1.5 percent was something to celebrate.

“We were able to achieve a positive return in an environment when a number of other public funds did not,” said PERA Executive Director Gregory Smith. He said the return “affirms PERA’s investment strategy and allows us to offer our retirees and the entire state a reliable source of economic stability.”

Stop the spin, we’re getting dizzy. Perhaps PERA is the symbol of “economic stability” in a fictional world of hopes, dreams and political fantasy. In the real world, PERA is only 62.1 percent funded, with an unfunded liability of nearly $27 billion.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has relentlessly warned of a day of reckoning, when Coloradans will have to find a way to bail out the pension if retirees are to get what was promised. He talks about PERA’s “math problem,” because the numbers just don’t add up under any likely market scenario.

Stapleton’s warnings are news the governing class would rather not hear. Political considerations favor keeping the party festive, while leaving the mess for future politicians and taxpayers to deal with. Ethical considerations favor taking a stand, as Stapleton has done for the past six years.

At least Stapleton is no longer alone, made to look like a fanatic in the corner making unpleasant sounds. PERA trustee Susan Murphy criticized management’s “verbiage,” saying it failed to accurately characterize the gravity of the system’s financial dilemma. She spoke of the irresponsibility of kicking the can down the road.

“The problem with a 30- or 40-year amortization is that the cost of prior people’s service and their retirement is being passed onto the young people and to taxpayers. It’s a shifting of responsibility,” Murphy told The Gazette.

Exactly. It is a policy that rewards today’s government workers, who vote, without the slightest regard for the young people who will be handed a massive debt that only stands to grow as PERA fails to meet ambitious investment goals for years to come. In addition to inheriting this debt, young Coloradans will have almost no hope of enjoying the benefits of a bankrupt pension they were forced to pay for. Unless something changes dramatically and fast, PERA poses a lose-lose proposition for Colorado’s youth.

Don’t give baby kissing politicians a pass on this unpleasant topic. Give them the uncomfortable task of devising solutions to a financial crisis today’s retirees and politicians are causing for people so young they cannot vote. It is time for state politicians and their constituents to act like adults and protect the state’s youth.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/29Misci


The Aurora Sentinel, July 12, on Colorado leaders coming together on recent issues:

In a polarized world where racism, cops and guns are the ideal mix for volatility, it’s stunning that there’s so much agreement from the country’s top leaders on one issue and that, despite the unity, it’s still so hard to get something done.

For years, it seems that all sides in the controversial issue framed by Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter were far apart on whether a problem even existed. And black-rights and police activists seemed further apart on how the problem could be addressed, assuming it was even acknowledged at all.

As tragic as the last week has been with new police shootings of black Americans and the horrific sniper shootings killing five Dallas officers and wounding more, the horror may have opened a door we never knew existed.

Hours after the Dallas police were attacked while protecting Black Lives Matter protesters, President Barack Obama, in Europe at the time, condemned the shootings and reiterated something he’s said numerous times before.

You can simultaneously acknowledge and condemn the fact that some police treat black Americans wrongly, to the point of killing them, and that not all police are like that, and the job of law enforcers is increasingly difficult and unappreciated. The remarks have become so common, that it has become a tragedy in itself, reflecting the frequency of these horrific incidents.

But what set the comments apart this time is how leaders here in Colorado and across the country began to say the same or similar things.

El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, a staunch, conservative Republican running against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet for a seat in the U.S. Senate, issued a thoughtful and provocative essay the day after the Dallas shootings. Glenn eloquently described how blacks are routinely humiliated by overt and sometimes subtle or unintentional racism, including by police. And he defended how nearly impossible the job of police has become in a world made increasingly dangerous by a growing list of conflicting issues.

He sounded almost exactly like Obama, a man Glenn has vociferously criticized for just about everything up to this point.

The next day, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a man who’s long been at odds with Obama, also acknowledged that whites do not know the strife that racism inflicts on blacks, and that some police are certainly part of the problem. And at the same time, he echoed the sentiments of many others, that the job of police is exceedingly difficult and all of these issues must be addressed.

Sure, social media is still rife with polarized memes and messages either painting all blacks with a single brush as lawless, disrespectful hoodlums that bring on their own violent deaths. Or they make police out to be jackbooted paramilitary thugs in blue, too quick to act out on racial hatred and then cover their tracks as a pack.

But outside of that nonsense is a growing picture of police being openly supportive of efforts to ensure the horrific killing of blacks by some rogue officers is stopped. And increasingly, blacks are going out of their way to tell police they know how difficult their job is, and how their work is appreciated.

Here in Aurora, Police Chief Nick Metz, who is black, has been publicly insisting that we all must have productive conversations now, not later. He’s right.

This is a moment America must seize. High-level officials, police rank-and-file and just everyday people can see that blacks truly have been and are mistreated by some police and others. At the same time, our expectations of police are unreasonable and unrealistic, and those willing to do that job more often than not are exceptional people, not thugs.

With this much common ground, it seems that consensus on a local level, a state level and even a national level is actually within reach.

If these leaders are willing to set aside their own partisan temptations long enough to have meaningful, overdue conversations, it’s likely we can seek ways to solve both of these very real and tragic problems that now border on becoming overwhelming.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/29C0Ku0


The Daily Sentinel, July 8, on raising taxes on tobacco products:

There’s no question that raising taxes on tobacco products is an effective way of getting people to quit - or never start - smoking or chewing.

For the first time in nearly a decade, cigarette sales in the state increased last year. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported in February that cigarette sales were up 1.1 million packs from the previous year, reversing a decline that began in 2004.

That year, voters approved a ballot measure to raise taxes on tobacco products. Before the new tax went into effect, cigarette sales were about 300 million packs a year. Today they’re down by more than a third to 194.4 million packs.

There’s an effort underway to raise cigarette taxes by $1.75 a pack - a three-fold increase. A group called Campaign for a Healthy Colorado is collecting signatures for a ballot measure to raise taxes on tobacco products with the express aim of decreasing smoking.

It sounds good. Who, besides smokers and Big Tobacco, would be opposed to such a measure? Especially if they figure that it won’t affect their pocketbooks. But it might affect all taxpayers due to the implications of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. More on that in a moment.

Never mind that taxing tobacco products singles out smokers and chewers for contributing $1.8 billion a year in health care and related expenses in Colorado. They become convenient targets for containing health care costs. But where are the tax increases on junk food, sodas, liquor and hand-held devices with proceeds to fund health and safety? Any of these arguably contribute to the country’s health care costs.

Moreover, as the tobacco lobby is certain to point out, low-income people are more likely to smoke than those who don’t live in poverty. A tax increase hurts them disproportionately.

Questions of fairness aside, any proposal to raise taxes in Colorado is fair game for how it meshes with TABOR.

The additional tax would raise an estimated $315 million a year, but the revenue isn’t directed toward the state’s major needs, such as education and transportation. The proposed ballot measures says the new money can’t be used to supplant money already allocated toward its intended beneficiaries, and that it’s not subject to TABOR - a provision that easily could be challenged in court as unconstitutional since it doesn’t fit as an enterprise.

If that happened, even less money could be available for K-12, roads and health care programs in a state notorious for its budgetary contortions to avoid TABOR ramifications.

We agree that decreasing smoking is an important goal. But let’s be certain that there aren’t unintended budgetary consequences hidden inside a nanny-state solution. Tobacco may be lethal, but it’s still legal.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/29HFXmq


The Denver Post, July 7, on the removal of a judge in Colorado death penalty case:

The remarkable removal of a judge from a death-penalty appeal shortly before he was set to make a significant ruling demands public explanation. Lawyers for convicted murderer and death-row inmate Sir Mario Owens are right about that, whatever the value of the remaining claims they made in a legal filing last week with the state Supreme Court.

Judge Gerald Rafferty’s dismissal from Owens’ case in April may in fact have been justified. But who can tell given the secrecy surrounding the process by which the Colorado Supreme Court yanked Rafferty off the case. A press release that said Rafferty “breached the terms of the contract” as a senior judge hardly qualifies as sufficient.

“To remove a sitting judge . at exactly the same moment that he was issuing his final order, which would largely decide Mr. Owens’ fate and whether he lives or dies, is literally unprecedented, not only in a Colorado case of this magnitude, but in the annals of law,” Owens’ lawyers wrote.

It is also costly, since it negates much of the lengthy hearings held in Rafferty’s courtroom. Evidence will have to be presented anew and witnesses required to repeat their testimony. This may be unavoidable, but it is also extraordinary. What did Rafferty do to merit such treatment?

The public interest goes well beyond the extra price tag, too. Owens’ attorneys contend that Rafferty was poised to find major flaws in the original prosecution. The dark implication of interference is obvious, and should not be allowed to linger when a straightforward explanation for Rafferty’s departure could clear the air.

Yet on Wednesday the high court refused to reconsider pulling Rafferty, and it did so with a terse, one-page order that provided no explanation for the denial.

Ironically, Owens’ appeal involves one of the first tests of what a Denver Post article by John Ingold describes as a “new process for death-penalty appeals in Colorado, which lawmakers hoped would speed up the execution process. Instead, the system has bogged down, mired for years without even clearing the first step in the process.”

But such delays are par for the course in death-penalty cases. Despite one attempt after another by die-hard proponents of capital punishment to see the penalty enforced, Colorado has had only two executions in the past half century, with the most recent occurring nearly 20 years ago. Meanwhile, juries have become reluctant to mandate death even for the likes of heinous mass murderers such as James Holmes and Dexter Lewis.

Owens was convicted in 2008 for a crime that occurred 11 years ago, and his case could easily drag on for additional years. If nothing else, this latest strange saga of his appeal should provide more evidence to lawmakers that the death penalty statute is not working and cannot be made to work. It’s time that it was repealed.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/29vfZ4d

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