- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Gazette, May 23, on the failings of the VA in Colorado:

News flash: The Department of Veterans Affairs cannot get its act together.

During a congressional committee hearing this week, VA officials conceded they built the brand-new Floyd K. Lindstrom Clinic too small for demand. The 76,000-square-foot facility opened in Colorado Springs in 2014 and was apparently inadequate for demand from Day One.

The seemingly endless episodes of buffoonery would be comical if not so tragic.

The issue of the clinic’s size was given to explain why 25 percent of the facility’s patients wait more than a month for care. VA officials said the demand was “unexpected” when they planned the facility.

The VA’s notorious delays in service, and the agency’s proven efforts to cover them up, are more than just an inconvenience. The lack of regard for customer service has killed people who devoted their lives to defending this country.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, spoke at the hearing of Noah Harter’s long wait for service in the Springs.

Harter returned from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating mental conditions associated with his service. The clinic prescribed him powerful mental health drugs that require follow-up care, because of side effects that can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Harter, like so many other veterans in our community, was given no follow-up care because of the clinic’s inability to manage patient loads. He killed himself.

Harter’s death could have been prevented had he received the type of timely care he earned by going into battle for the rest of us.

“They can’t keep blaming the veterans,” Harter’s father said, after Friday’s hearing. “My son isn’t here to defend himself.”

The complaint of a clinic built too small is troubling for at least three reasons:

- The “demand” in Colorado Springs should not have come as a surprise. The federal government knows exactly how many veterans live in the metropolitan area. It knows their ages and has their medical histories. Our government also knows the projected growth of this area. If they built the clinic too small, VA officials created another example of incompetence we can add to a long and growing list.

- It sounds like “we need more money” in return for lousy performance.

- It doesn’t add up. The VA built the clinic to alleviate wait times, but it seems to have made them worse.

The agency’s complaints about its new Springs facility coincide with a $1 billion cost overrun involving its new hospital in Aurora. That facility won’t be finished on time and will more than double cost estimates.

The VA is broken. It has not worked well for generations. To suggest otherwise is to accept that people who serve our country deserve long waits, poor customer service and a regimented health care system that excludes them from the health care choices available to Americans with conventional health insurance plans.

We are wasting time trying to fix the VA. It is time to consider vouchers, privatization or parceling out the agency’s responsibilities to more functional elements of government. Our veterans deserve much better.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1TD6Zuf


The Daily Sentinel, May 24, on funding education in Colorado:

Colorado is a top-performing state in several economic growth categories, but a legislative knot prevents lawmakers from backfilling the $5 billion the Legislature has cut from public schools since the Great Recession hammered the state budget.

As a result, Colorado is the nation’s 14th richest state, but ranks 42nd in per-pupil funding, according to Colorado Public Radio’s Jenny Brundin.

Lawmakers have been unable to untangle constitutional conflicts among the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23, which address taxes and school funding in different ways. Even attempts to sidestep the knot - like converting the state’s hospital provider fee to an enterprise to free up money for schools - have been waylaid by partisan posturing.

Colorado spent roughly $2,500 less per student in 2013 than the national average, according to Education Week. That ranks Colorado below two of the poorest states in the nation: Mississippi and Alabama.

Because of a variety of factors, Mesa County fares worse than most districts in Colorado. The school finance formula applies base funding fairly evenly, but “the negative factor” - a budget stabilization tool that defies easy explanation - means School District 51 gets less than what it started with. Revenue from a mill levy override doesn’t make up the difference. In 2014-15, Mesa County schools started with a base of per-pupil funding of $7,660. After the negative factor and the override, it wound up with per-pupil funding of $7,050.

Denver schools got nearly $9,000 per pupil. Boulder, with a $2,000 per-pupil boost from its mill levy override, has $40 million more a year to spend on technology, more teachers, better teachers, intervention staffing and elective courses.

Meanwhile, District 51 is attempting to incorporate performance-based and whole-student learning, but can’t afford the latest textbooks that would best support the revamped curriculum, as The Sentinel’s Katie Langford reported Sunday.

Since the Legislature has shown no ability to cut through the “fiscal thicket” that restricts school finance reform, Mesa County voters have three options: 1. Press local lawmakers to find a way to increase per-pupil funding; 2. Support a mill levy override that will plug the funding gap; or, 3. Accept living in an underfunded district and whatever outcomes it gives us.

District 51 Board of Education President John Williams said the district wouldn’t seek voter approval of a bond or an override this year for fear of being buried under an already-full ballot.

We’ve said repeatedly that having high-performing schools is a key to a long-term economic ascendancy. You don’t get there by slashing spending on textbooks and resources by 90 percent, as D51 has had to do since 2007.

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


The Durango Herald, May 23, on Gov. Hickenlooper as possible pick for Hillary Clinton’s vice president:

The political website The Hill reported last week that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is one of Hillary Clinton’s top five vice presidential picks. It is an interesting idea that also makes sense.

Hickenlooper would likely make a good vice president. As the former mayor of a major city and a two-term governor, he is certainly more qualified than many who have held that office. He would also be an imaginative choice for the campaign.

According to The Hill, Clinton’s top five list includes Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez and Hickenlooper. But that list already appears to be shrinking.

Brown would help win Ohio and perhaps other Rust Belt states. He could help with the working-class white men who form much of Donald Trump’s base.

Warren is energetic and combative, as evidenced by her recent Twitter war with Trump. And even more than Brown, she would attract and enliven backers of Bernie Sanders.

But Brown and Warren both represent states with Republican governors, who would appoint their replacements. For that reason, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid emphatically rejected picking either of them Monday. “I would yell and scream to stop that,” he said.

Kaine may have problems, too. Also on Monday, CNN reported that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat who would appoint Kaine’s successor, is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department’s public integrity unit. No one has suggested Kaine is involved, but Clinton does not need any talk of scandal - even twice removed.

Perez speaks Spanish and could help get out the Hispanic vote. He is also popular with labor groups. Secretary of labor, however, is a poor stepping stone.

Hickenlooper offers something different. A pro-business Democrat with a background as an entrepreneur, he is enough unlike Hillary to broaden the ticket’s appeal. At the same time, his calm, even temperament and ready smile make him an automatic anti-Trump. Hickenlooper could be the perfect foil to a crude carnival barker.

There may be something to this.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/25kSAeZ


The Denver Post, May 23, on state’s lack of housing construction:

Lawmakers who have blocked a fix for the state’s lack of condo construction - a list that begins with Democratic House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst - should read a recent article by The Denver Post’s Aldo Svaldi and see if they can still remain complacent.

The article chronicles the alarming fact that housing construction has now lagged behind demand for years, and quotes an expert warning that the shortage could become chronic, with all that entails - such as punishing rents and home prices that routinely outstrip income gains.

“This is a perfect cocktail for a really bad housing outcome,” Washington-based housing economist Elliot Eisenberg said.

Now obviously the construction shortfall - “about 55,000 homes and apartments short” of what Colorado has needed since 2012 based on population growth - is due to a number of factors and not just that builders have been unwilling to build condos because of litigation fears. But political leaders should be looking to reduce as many obstacles to construction as possible in order to encourage new projects rather than bottle up potential solutions with endless objections. And yet the construction defects issue has been on the Legislature’s plate for several years without effective resolution and in defiance of united support for action by the region’s mayors.

Eisenberg believes the best this region can hope to do is “to build enough houses so the situation doesn’t get worse” - a rather depressing outlook if accurate. Yet even holding the line could be difficult if Colorado remains among the top states in attracting new residents.

Indeed, the magnitude of the shortfall in overall housing should be a wake-up call not only for construction defects opponents but for anyone who imagines that metro Denver can solve its housing problems without a major boost in private investment. And not just in the city center and along transit lines, but in areas of suburban expansion as well, where the land supply remains less restricted. Sprawl may be dirty word to some urban planners but the overall housing supply is key if we’re not going to price young adults out of any hope of buying a home or even affording rent without sharing an apartment with people they hardly know, as is common in high-priced California cities.

Government subsidies and incentives can play a role, too, but primarily at the margins. It was a shame, for example, that the legislature failed to pass House Bill 1466, which would have transferred $40 million from the state’s unclaimed property trust fund to the state’s division of housing and to the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority to help leverage construction of affordable rental housing, among other things. But in a state in which “an estimated 164,000 households pay in excess of half of their monthly income on rent,” according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, $40 million is a woefully small down payment on the problem.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/27RSPwQ

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