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Colorado Editorial Roundup

July 5, 2017

The Denver Post, July 4, on fiscal health of Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association:

The fiscal health of Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association is now so alarming that even the pension’s management has discarded its rose-colored glasses and is firmly facing reality.

According to recently released projections, PERA’s school division actually has a greater chance of plunging into insolvency over the next few decades (a shocking 44 percent likelihood) than it does of achieving fully funded status. And the state division, PERA’s second-largest after schools, is in only marginally better shape, with a 38 percent chance of a death spiral.

The crisis may not be as dire as in 2010, when the legislature responded, but it’s serious and demands that PERA get on with the business of recommending another set of reforms to lawmakers. This time the changes must set PERA on a certain path to solvency.

Just one year ago, PERA officials downplayed concerns about the pension fund, with Executive Director Greg Smith confidently observing, “We understand there are ebbs and flows to the market and are built to withstand them.” Smith’s public mood began to shift late last year after PERA’s board lowered the expected rate of return from 7.5 percent to 7.25 percent and adopted new mortality tables to reflect growing longevity. Now, with the release of PERA’s annual report documenting the fund’s deteriorating position across the board, Smith seems to have dropped the last vestiges of happy talk. At least we hope so.

According to Secure Futures Colorado, which closely tracks pension issues, Smith told the PERA board last month the trend was unacceptable. “We have to move that line,” he said. “That’s the game. That’s the objective. That’s what has to happen. We’re already bad enough. Action needs to be taken.”

Yes, it does. Action is needed to protect, first and foremost, the retirement benefits of public employees but also the fiscal integrity and credit of the state. It’s also just plain wrong to kick a $32 billion liability down the road when you know there is a good chance it will only grow larger and thus burden generations to come.

Expect, however, a rough-and-tumble struggle over how to shore up the system. Should lawmakers tap employees, their tax-funded government employers, or both for the inevitable sacrifice? As we noted in January, the employer contribution has shot up in the past decade to the point that it is closing in on 20 percent of payroll. That’s a punishing burden for school districts and other entities that already face significant budget pressure. And under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, they cannot simply raise taxes to offset further hikes in their contribution. They would have to take the revenue out of programs.

Meanwhile, most employees’ contribution has been stable at 8 percent. It is clearly time for this to be increased by a modest amount. In addition, although the reforms of 2010 made headway in reducing the gap in retirement age between PERA and Social Security, the next set of reforms should seek to shrink the divide still further, especially given growing longevity.

PERA officials deserve credit for the straight talk of recent weeks, but it’s essential their candor continue as the board and then legislature grapple with reform. “I think many of us have been concerned that we have been painting a picture that is less critical than the situation is, in our messaging to taxpayers and to our beneficiaries,” board member Susan Murphy told her colleagues at last month’s meeting.

PERA officials shouldn’t overhype the present danger, either, but they shouldn’t have to. A 44 percent chance of going belly up should be spur enough for reform.

Editorial: http://dpo.st/2tNes4R

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The Cortez Journal, July 3, on wildfire funding:

In southwest Colorado this past winter, high country snowfall was abundant — overly so, from the viewpoint of mountain dwellers who had few breaks during the season of snow removal. The snowpack was well above the long-term average. Rivers ran high through the first couple weeks of June, reservoirs have filled and water users are assured of having enough, at least for this year.

Last week’s fluke house explosion and resulting 412-acre forest fire in Lightner Creek canyon withstanding, the outlook for the 2017 wildfire season is positive. While parts of the state are drier than this region, the state Division of Fire Prevention and Control says Colorado can expect an average to slightly below average wildfire season.

Though the wildfire picture is changing. Snowfall in recent years has ended early and abruptly, giving wildlands more time to dry out. As the climate continues to change, summers are likely to be hotter, drier and perhaps windier. According to the National Weather Service, wind gusts over 70 mph sparked the 17,000-acre Dead Dog Fire in Northwest Colorado in June, and temperatures in eastern Utah and western Colorado rose to over 10 degrees above normal with little to no precipitation except for a few isolated thunderstorms at elevation.

To further complicate predictions, few Colorado wildfires have natural causes - only 7 percent in 2016 - and human-caused fires can behave differently and catch hold faster than lightning-strike fires. The human-caused Brian Head fire in southern Utah that started on June 17th is only 65 percent contained, has consumed tens of thousands of acres, required about 1,800 firefighting personnel and has topped $15 million in costs.

So, in a time when the president is proposing deep budget cuts and the GOP-controlled congress is likely to agree with many of them, it is essential that federal wildfire mitigation and firefighting funding be preserved. Elected officials should think of it as defense spending, because that is really what it is.

If 2017 plays out as a year with few catastrophic wildfires, budgeters casting about for cuts will mistakenly believe that the wildland fire budget is overfunded and can safely be cut. That is an easy mistake for someone sitting in Washington to make, especially those with a small-government philosophy and a bias against climate-change data.

But one strong argument against transferring those lands to the states is the problem of firefighting. Local agencies cannot do it. A federal firefighting force will always be needed, and funding wildfire efforts on a federal level only makes sense. These wetter, safer years will be a time to work on prevention.

Congressional delegations from western states should push hard to ensure that the firefighting equipment is upgraded, firefighters are paid and funding is in the bank for the next year of big fires.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2uqNDRY

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The Gazette, July 2, on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch:

Erudite cultural conservatives have issues with President Donald Trump. They aren’t into protectionist tariffs, 3 a.m. tweets, locker room vulgarity and bombastic populist appeals. Trump is not the second act of Reagan.

Still, no conservative can deny what Trump found for them in Boulder.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is a gift that may keep giving to the conservative cause for the next 40 years.

Rulings last week remove any doubt Gorsuch is the staunchly conservative, “originalist” jurist Trump promised while stumping on the campaign trail.

The Gazette’s editorial board grilled Trump last July to determine whether he was serious about nominating judges only from a list approved by the center-right Federalist Society. Trump promised that was his plan and said it was “the most important issue in the race.”

Constitutional stalwarts who are not sold on Gorsuch should talk to their friends on the left.

“Neil Gorsuch is everything liberals feared - and more,” shouts a headline in Slate.

Slate’s Gorsuch photo carries a cutline that calls the judge “a reactionary who dresses up his cruel views in folksy charms.”

The analysis explains how Monday’s rulings and opinions confirmed Gorsuch as “pro-gun, pro-travel ban, anti-gay, anti-church/state separation” and “possibly to the right of Justice Clarence Thomas.”

He is “an unmitigated disaster for the progressive constitutional project.”

The what? Progressive constitutionalism, from what we can tell, views the Constitution as a living document judges may interpret creatively to comport with modern social, cultural and political trends. Progressive constitutionalism is the opposite of constitutional originalism, which holds the Constitution as a permanent document that means what it says and is hard to amend.

The bizarre “anti-gay” assertion emanates from tensions between progressive constitutionalists and those demanding enforcement of the Constitution’s original intent.

Believing the court should not create law, Gorsuch dissented from a ruling that requires states to list same-sex parents on state birth certificates.

We doubt Gorsuch harbors negative sentiment toward gay Americans. More likely, he genuinely objects to nine hand-picked lawyers, without constitutional authority, telling 50 sovereign states how to do business.

Gorsuch, with law degrees from Harvard and Oxford, read the Constitution and found the 10th Amendment’s limitation on federal authority: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Having found nothing constitutional that empowers federal authorities to manage birth certificates, Gorsuch opined accordingly. It wasn’t about his view of gay rights or same-sex marriage. It was about his limited role as a judge authorized only to interpret the Constitution and relevant case law. If birth certificates are not “delegated to the United States,” they are by legal dictate a purview of the states or the people.

As for the “pro-gun” charge, we cannot confirm whether Gorsuch likes guns, uses guns or favors their pervasive role in society. It is not relevant.

Gorsuch merely joined Thomas in a dissenting opinion that defends the Second Amendment’s language: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

That is the law. We trust judges to interpret laws without personal prejudice.

Slate’s tirade claims Gorsuch harbors “deep hostility to the separation of church and state.”

More likely, Gorsuch probably harbors deep hostility to a progressive pretense that our Constitution requires “separation of church and state.”

At issue is Gorsuch joining the majority ruling in favor of Trinity Lutheran School in Missouri. The school endured religious discrimination when state authorities enforced the state’s racist Blaine Amendment in violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise and establishment clauses.

The First Amendment clearly prohibits government from making laws motivated by the religious convictions of individuals or groups.

By refusing the school access to state playground assistance, expressly because the school is Lutheran, Missouri illegally enacted and enforced a law “respecting an establishment of religion.” By segregating the school from the state program, state authorities interfered with the school’s right to exercise religion without consequence imposed by government.

Gorsuch will have a profound influence on holding government to the constraints our founders intended.

He will conserve the constitutional doctrine of a small government in service to a free and responsible public. For that, conservatives should thank Trump.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2uqVq2i

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The Pueblo Chieftain, June 28, on Colorado State Fair listed among nation’s best:

The Colorado State Fair. One of the nation’s 10 best fairs.

Sure has a ring to it. And it’s great news for the annual event that will open in two months.

SmartAsset -- a financial technology company that uses data to provide free, actionable advice on big financial decisions -- named the Colorado State Fair the ninth best in the nation.

This was the second year that SmartAsset ranked the best state fairs in the country. After being ranked 21st in SmartAsset’s 2016 study, the Colorado State Fair moved up 12 spots.

The ranking parameters include attendance rates, adult and youth admission prices, the length of run and daily precipitation averages during each event.

SmartAsset reported: “Agriculture competitions like the junior breeding sheep showmanship contest and carnival rides come together for this Pueblo-hosted event, which saw 466,576 visitors during the 11-day run in 2016 and provided $29 million in economic activity to Colorado.

“Fair highlights include rodeos, monster trucks and a demolition derby.”

If you missed the article in The Chieftain, here’s The SmartAsset Top 10:

Mississippi State Fair

New Mexico State Fair

North Dakota State Fair

Oregon State Fair and (tie)

South Dakota State Fair (tie)

California State Fair

Great New York State Fair

North Carolina State Fair

Colorado State Fair

Illinois State Fair

Sarah Cummings, the Colorado State Fair’s second-year general manager, said she was both elated with the news and committed to ensuring that the Fair’s stellar reputation remains so.

“I’m ecstatic. I love it,” said Cummings. “I think it is a great indicator of the progress we are making and the wonderful asset we have here.

“We are so proud to be able to showcase agriculture, promote community celebration and host one of the best fairs in the nation.”

We think it’s great, too, and we echo Cummings’ comments about showcasing agriculture. Sometimes our friends in the northern part of the state don’t get that part, but agriculture remains a huge part of Colorado, and to showcase it in Pueblo each year truly is a big deal.

A top 10 big deal, that is.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2tqXO98

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