Colorado Editorial Roundup
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Aug. 27, on targeting incentives where they’re needed:
On the heels of the announcement that VF Corp. is moving its corporate headquarters to Denver, The Denver Post ran an editorial stating that Colorado “should take its foot off the economic development accelerator.”
Oh, how nice it must be to sit in the lap of largesse on the Front Range, dismissing the significance of yet another Fortune 500 company choosing Colorado as its new home.
A little background: Earlier this month, VF Corp., the parent company of outdoor brands like The North Face and Smartwool, announced that it will bring to Denver its corporate headquarters, along with 800 jobs at an average annual salary of around $147,000.
The state of Colorado incentivized the company’s move from North Carolina with up to $27 million in job growth incentive tax credits. These are tax credits the company may receive after it has created a new job in the state at or above the average county wage and kept it in place for at least one year.
The state will recoup the $3,825-per-new-employee-per-year investment quickly through income and sales taxes paid by the new employees, so the incentive program is a no-brainer.
But is it being deployed in the right way?
Ninety-five percent of the population growth in Colorado over the last 10 years has occurred in communities along the Interstate 25 corridor. Colorado mashed the economic development accelerator in direct response to a deep recession, initially under Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration and continuing under Gov. John Hickenlooper. Under the circumstances, it was appropriate to grow the economic pie anywhere it would grow.
Now, many are wondering if we haven’t over-egged the pudding in the population centers of the state. Many Front Range communities are quickly outgrowing their infrastructure and the traffic can be maddening.
At the same time, other communities in the state continue to stagnate. From the cheap seats out here in western Colorado (some of which is still very much stuck in recession), the very premise of the Post editorial appears flawed.
Companies make relocation and expansion decisions based on squishy factors like quality of life and the quality of workforce, not incentive dollars. Denver has the highest percentage of under-30 college graduates in the nation. For that reason, it is now the fastest growing metropolitan economy in the nation.
VF Corp. chose Denver for the quality of its workforce, its cultural amenities and the value it places on outdoor activity. Incentive dollars, like an ante in a game of poker, are a forced bet to get you in the game. If you don’t ante up, you can’t win the hand. If you don’t have incentives, you’re out of the game entirely.
Pulling back on the state’s job growth incentive tax program would only hobble the state’s ability to play in the economic development arena — and that would hurt every area of the state.
Instead of limiting job growth incentives, the Legislature should give serious consideration to enhancing incentives for job growth in struggling rural areas or areas hit with major industry losses like Craig, Delta and other coal-reliant areas.
The answer to a concentration of wealth and population in some areas of the state is not to punish the whole state, but rather develop more powerful tools to enhance lagging areas of the state.
(Boulder) Daily Camera, Aug. 25, on politics among CU regents:
John Carson was the Douglas County school board president when in 2010 the board hired Elizabeth Fagen as the district’s superintendent. Carson was part of a conservative slate of board members that favored a set of policies — including a school voucher program, severing ties to the teachers’ union and a performance-based system for teacher pay — that Fagen implemented unapologetically.
Fagen’s six-year tenure is widely viewed as a disaster. Experienced teachers left Douglas County in droves. The voucher program became mired in years of legal challenges, and the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the program unconstitutionally diverted public money to religious schools. The acrimony Fagen engendered was such that in 2016, when she left for a smaller district in Texas, Douglas community members wrote dozens of warning messages on the Facebook page of her new employer, and a spokesman for district parents told Castle Rock News-Press that Fagen’s successor needed to be someone who will “check their political affiliation at the door.
Carson, a Republican, was pleased with Fagen. He thought she did an “excellent job,” according to the News-Press. “She wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo.”
Now Carson is a University of Colorado regent, and he is on a crusade to challenge the status quo in higher education. He is among a conservative majority of regents, including Heidi Ganahl and Chair Sue Sharkey, who want to push right-wing politics straight through the college doors.
“We have a crisis in higher education in the country today,” Carson said last month in Tabernash during the regents’ summer retreat. “Our faculties are not reflecting the diversity of thought in America. And I want the University of Colorado to be a leader in fixing that. I want that to be one of our major strategic initiatives. This is not a minor issue.” Sharkey said that conservative faculty don’t want to “come out of the closet,” and she likened being conservative on campus to being gay.
It was a forceful advancement of goals the conservative regents have long pursued — several even campaigned on the issue — and they’re impatient to see results. They’re calling for the regular and detailed measurement of political climate on campus, development of campus programs centered on conservative thought, hiring of faculty who will teach conservative thinking, and use of university money — as opposed to private donations and endowments — to make it all happen. In other words, they threaten to undermine the university’s nonpartisan priority of academic excellence.
The regents are correct on one point: More liberals than conservatives teach and study on college campuses. A survey by the Higher Education Research Institute found in 2014 that 60 percent of college and university professors identified as liberal or far-left compared with about a fifth their number who identified as conservative or far-right. The survey also found that students were less ideologically inclined than their instructors — just over 30 percent of students were liberal and just over 20 percent were conservative while almost half of those surveyed identified as moderate. That same year, the University of Colorado conducted its first social climate study across the four CU campuses, including the flagship in Boulder, and found that 9 percent of faculty were Republicans while 42 percent were Democrats.
A party affiliation imbalance itself should not necessarily be treated as cause for alarm, because university instructors are professionals who are expected to teach to academic, not political, standards, and the university already prohibits partisan discrimination. Furthermore, the bias that conservative regents blame on a prevalence of campus liberalism is not supported by research. The CU survey showed that 96 percent of students said their instructors created a respectful, non-judgmental learning environment. Results of a nationwide study that were published in The Conversation in February showed that after attending college for a year students had an increased appreciation for “political viewpoints across the spectrum, not just favoring liberals.” The study, bolstering other research in this area, also found that “while students still favor liberal ideologies over conservative ones, this gap does not widen over the first year.” In other words, professors don’t indoctrinate students politically. “This finding might ultimately have little to do with faculty directly and instead relate to the climate that campuses strive to create for the expression of diverse viewpoints, political and otherwise.”
So why are there more liberals on campus in the first place? The Republican regents will not like the answer to this question. It appears that conservatives are inherently more likely to take themselves out of academia. They self-select, and they do so as a function of personality and interests. A 2007 study, “Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don’t Get Doctorates,” found that “in both choices of majors and in personal values, conservatives seem to be taking themselves off the track for academic careers well before graduate school,” as reported by Inside Higher Ed. “Conservatives are much more likely to pick majors in professional fields ... Those who are liberal are much more likely to consider a Ph.D.” This suggests an elementary way that conservatives can expand their presence on college campuses: stay in school. (Fun fact: The study was co-authored by Penn State Harrisburg’s Matthew Woessner, a conservative.)
In 2013, CU Boulder launched the Conservative Thought and Policy Program, through which visiting scholars are invited to teach on campus. The initiative, which is privately funded, is celebrated as a national example of how a university might accommodate exposure, beyond what students routinely learn in class, for right-leaning views. It’s one thing to supplement the normal college experience with an explicitly conservative program. But conservative regents are after much more than that. They want to alter the experience itself.
In Tabernash, Carson singled out specific academic departments, such as the Boulder history department, that he viewed as too liberal, and he demanded that the school “hire tenured faculty” to balance the scales with conservative instructors. To foist politics onto the faculty hiring process would be to pervert the university’s purpose and compromise its credibility. Faculty should be hired not because they’ve passed a political litmus test but because they’ve demonstrated academic achievement and ability. A predilection for Ayn Rand novels does not count as an academic qualification, any more than does a fondness for Marx-Engels quotes.
Universities are havens of open and free thought. The opposite would result from what CU’s conservative regents advocate. They seek to hem and apportion thought, and the spirit of their campaign is anathema to a Western-model university.
The Durango Herald, Aug. 25, on keeping Colorado a “purple” state:
We’ve been thinking lately that we have underestimated Gov. John Hickenlooper, and that our “purple” Colorado — balanced between red and blue — could be wishing for his steady hand again one day soon. We used to think he was efficient but lackluster. That was before we witnessed a boom of politicians who put party before state or country. They’re seldom dull, but they are menaces.
Hickenlooper, meanwhile, actually gets things done, even in the last months of his administration — and with little fanfare, as he did recently by pushing ahead to address the hazards posed by the state’s abandoned oil and gas wells.
We don’t know what the likely outcome is of the race to replace him, or even where our support will lie when it comes time to make our endorsement, but we do know now that we are faced with two candidates who have a significant partisan and ideological divide. And that worries us because we are certain the state’s future lies somewhere down the road between them.
Being a purple state is no longer some quirk or artifact. It has become a state of being and one we are in no hurry to abate. It works for Colorado. It helps us arrive at livable compromises on issues such as drilling and taxes. We are blessed to be able to go to the state ballot and tinker.
But to stay purple, we have to see that while neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are unique or irreplaceable, we also need both striving for the right as they see the right. That’s their job.
It is not necessarily the job of the voters, however. We owe blind allegiance to nothing but the common good. We choose candidates and leaders, not parties.
Our values and ideals could never reside in one party. They’re within us.
This is — we freely admit — a moderate stance. And moderate should not be a dirty word in a nation beset by extremism.
The other day, an acquaintance upbraided us, asking, “Would you have advocated for moderation in addressing slavery?”
Lincoln, our greatest president, was a moderate. The fire-eaters of the South thought he was a zealot, but the leading abolitionists of his day reviled him, and routinely abused him in their correspondence for being cautious, weak and immoral.
But who best addressed slavery? When has moderation ever failed us? And when has extremism not ended in tears before supper?
“I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation,” the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison said in 1831. “Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; - but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.”
Today, our Colorado house is not on fire and our brothers and sisters are not enslaved. Compromise ensures that.
“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” Barry Goldwater said in 1964, when he accepted the Republican nomination for president — and then lost in a landslide, partly because not enough Americans believed liberty was so imperiled.
So it is for Coloradoans today. Like Gov. Hickenlooper, we aim to keep it that way by the simplest expedient: being strong, centered and calm.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, Aug. 23, on a transportation measure making the November ballot:
Of course, Colorado residents want safer and better highways without a tax increase.
That is why backers of “Fix Our Damn Roads” collected nearly 15,000 more signatures than needed to get the measure on November’s ballot. Secretary of State Wayne Williams qualified the petitions last Wednesday, sampling 5 percent of signatures to estimate a total of 112,872 valid signatures. The petition needed only 98,492 to qualify.
The measure authorizes bonds to immediately raise $3.5 billion, repaying them with existing revenues. It effectively forces the legislature and governor to prioritize the transportation crisis, which they have neglected for at least the past decade.
The measure specifies a list of projects prioritized by the Colorado Department of Transportation. It is a commonsense proposal most Coloradans are likely to embrace.
Meanwhile, we await the fate of an ill-conceived proposal that would stress the economy and do less to fix roads. The Denver Chamber of Commerce turned in petitions after “Fix Our Damn Roads,” seeking a completely unnecessary transportation tax increase. The chamber’s proposal had not qualified for the ballot as of late Wednesday.
In the likely event the tax increase makes the ballot, voters should soundly reject it. Passage imposes a 21 percent increase in the state sale tax, at a time when state government wallows in an annual billion-dollar revenue surplus likely to grow in coming years.
The tax increase divides revenues among highway projects, bicycle paths, transit amenities for Denver, and funds for special projects in qualifying municipalities. The tax increase would put the combined sales tax in Colorado Springs among the highest in the country.
With the passage of “Fix Our Damn Roads,” transportation improvements throughout the Pikes Peak Region will be substantial and swift. Not so with the tax increase, which stands to deprive metro Colorado Springs.
“Instead of $50 million, we’d get about $18 million for local roads,” says Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who supports “Fix Our Damn Roads” and opposes the tax hike.
There’s a reason “Fix Our Damn Roads” made the ballot first, with a healthy surplus of signatures. People like the idea of prioritizing transportation. Highways and bridges are a fundamental function of state government. For decades, state politicians have starved transportation in hopes voters would get so fed up with bad roads they would authorize new taxes. Everyone knows about this game, and few people like it.
A Magellan Strategies survey of likely voters found 73 percent support “Fix Our Damn Roads.”
Internal polling showed only 55-65 percent support a sales tax increase. Given the apparent lack of enthusiasm among backers of the tax proposal, don’t expect those numbers to improve. Supporters of “Fix Our Damn Roads” constantly reach out to The Gazette and other media organizations to report their progress and ask for support. They want the public to know what they are doing.
We have not heard a peep from the tax hike proponents, who began planning the proposal in secret meetings closed to the press and general public.
We need better highways, bridges and roads. We need them yesterday. We don’t need new taxes, in a state awash in revenue.
Spread the word about “Fix Our Damn Roads” in conversations and on social media platforms. Tell friends, neighbors, and colleagues about their ability to take control and demand overdue transportation repairs and improvements.
Some decisions will be difficult in November. This one is easy. Demand common sense. Cast a vote that tells state government to “Fix Our Damn Roads.”