Colorado Editorial Roundup
The Denver Post, Aug. 22, on Colorado baker’s court cases:
It’s almost tempting at this point to sigh in resignation and say, “Just leave the poor baker alone.”
Lakewood cake decorator Jack Phillips had only just learned that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor in a case where he refused to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple, when a transgender woman filed a complaint against him for again refusing services.
Regardless of her motivation or the timing, Autumn Scardina faced discrimination when she attempted to order a cake decorated to celebrate her gender transition and employees at Masterpiece Cakeshop refused service.
Scardina didn’t receive the cake she requested because it was intended to celebrate who she is, and that, Colorado lawmakers have said in passing an anti-discrimination law that includes both sex and sexual orientation, is so wrong as to be deemed illegal under Colorado statute.
So instead, we find ourselves resolutely saying, again, “just bake the cake.”
There’s a long, proud tradition of advocates for the most pressing issues of our time, including civil rights, abortion, state’s rights, voting rights, and even college admissions, using “test cases” to force America’s court system to solve legitimate grievances.
Phillips is entitled to his religious beliefs; in fact, his religious beliefs are protected by the highest law in this country for good reason. As such, he has the right to voice his opposition to transgender individuals who make public their gender identity. If he were a member of the clergy he could refuse to allow a transgender member into his congregation, or refuse to hold a religious ceremony or refuse, if he were so inclined, to even speak with the individual.
But after weighing the compelling competing interests in the original Masterpiece Cakeshop case over the years — the first complaint against Phillips for violating Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws came in 2012 — this board has held firmly that Phillips’ right to practice his religious beliefs ends at the point he opens his store to the general public for business and he turns away customers based on their sex or sexual orientation.
Ultimately, there are only seven people to blame for the fact that Phillips is back before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission: U.S. Supreme Court justices Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts and the now retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
In the majority opinion written by Kennedy, the justices failed to address what they called a “difficult question.”
Instead Kennedy wrote: “When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires. Given all these considerations, it is proper to hold that whatever the outcome of some future controversy involving facts similar to these, the Commission’s actions here violated the Free Exercise Clause; and its order must be set aside.”
The court ruled as narrowly as possible in this case, leaving the door wide open for continued conflict and a lack of legal clarity. We cannot defend some of the remarks made by members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that the court construed as evidence Phillips didn’t get a fair hearing, nor did we find those remarks so clearly unfair to Phillips as to warrant the original complaint and years of legal wrangling to be tossed out.
We are not surprised Phillips is back in the court system, nor do we consider it harassment or bullying for the Colorado Civil Rights Division to again find Phillips at odds with the state law.
We can only hope at this point, although we are skeptical, that this might be the “perfect” test case as to generate a court precedent that finally puts the issue to rest, for both the sake of the poor baker and those facing his continued discrimination.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, Aug. 22, on saying no to killing jobs at Denver International Airport:
Doing business at Denver International Airport will cost more if Denver voters approve a ballot measure to ratchet the airport’s minimum wage to $15 between 2019 and 2021.
The airport-only wage mandate would top the state’s minimum wage of $10.20, which rises to $12 in 2020. The proposal exempts airport-based businesses with fewer than 30 employees. The Unite Here union plans to petition the measure onto the May ballot.
“Our ballot measure is an opportunity to lift up thousands of families in our community,” said Kevin Abels, president of Unite Here Local 23.
Unfortunately, that is not true.
Labor costs are overhead and are included in the prices of goods and services. That means higher costs for food, souvenirs and other travel essentials.
Here’s the bigger concern: The wage hike will incentivize mechanization, eliminating jobs for some of the lowest-skilled, least-experienced airport-based workers.
As the statewide minimum wage goes up, consumers see a combination of higher prices and more mechanization. Fast-food restaurants throughout Colorado are rapidly replacing workers with computerized order-taking kiosks. Robotic contraptions increasingly replace line workers in restaurant kitchens.
Though restaurants present the most visible signs, the unintended consequences of wage mandates play out in a variety of sectors. When the cost of baggage clerks goes up, airlines look to replace them with self-service scales and kiosks.
Studies confirm what consumers easily observe: New minimum wage laws harm the working poor, ending their employment before they accumulate adequate experience to advance to higher earnings.
During Barack Obama’s presidency, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would kill more than 500,000 jobs.
A study by Marquette University and Texas Christian University found increasing the minimum wage to $15 in Chicago would concentrate 28 percent of job losses among workers in the bottom decile of the wage distribution. The same study found the damage among low-wage earners in Boston jumps to 38 percent.
Seattle’s lowest wage workers saw a reduction of 9 percent in their work-hours after the state raised its minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.
This is not caused by greed. Profits fund businesses. Even businesses with enormous profits tend to amass them on thin profit margins generated on a massive scale. The National Restaurant Association reports nationwide pre-tax profits of 2-6 percent, among restaurants that stay in business.
To keep a 2 percent margin from quickly becoming a loss, businesses adjust for companywide increase in overhead. When laws raise the cost of labor, companies buy less labor or raise prices, or attempt a balance of the two. Occasionally restaurants and other service industries impose a labor surcharge on customers. No matter how businesses pay for higher wages, these mandates endanger some of the youngest and most vulnerable workers.
“If wage increases drive up the cost of eating out, restaurants can expect fewer customers or the sale of less food,” explains Abigail R. Hall-Blanco, associate professor of economics at the University of Tampa, in a report for CNBC. “This means fewer tips, fewer hours and even layoffs for some workers.
Today, record-breaking employment has employers competing for employees. Wages are rising as a result of good economic conditions. During economic downturns, employers need to stabilize or adjust wages to avoid layoffs and mechanization.
Voters who raise wages by force have big hearts and sincere concern for low-wage earners. They intend to help but unintentionally cause potential harm. They should study the facts before imposing a mandate that endangers airport-based workers deemed most expendable by employers protecting profits.
The Pueblo Chieftain, Aug. 20, on political standoff needing to be dismissed:
Among other things, Trinidad is known for being the former home of legendary Wild West figure Bat Masterson, who briefly served as the town marshal in 1882. But now Trinidad is at the center of a political gunfight which could leave residents of the Southern Colorado town and its neighbors in outlying communities caught in the crossfire.
Henry Solano, district attorney for the Trinidad-based 3rd Judicial District, has chosen not to prosecute some cases this year because of what he contends is a lack of adequate funding to run his office. As of last week, Solano’s office had dismissed 11 felony cases and 45 misdemeanors and traffic cases, with more likely to follow.
Some of these cases were for minor charges, but at least one involved an attempted manslaughter. Solano said the cases were dismissed without prejudice, which means they could be refiled at a later time. But that apparently would require ending a stalemate Solano has reached with the Las Animas County Commission, which the district attorney blames for underfunding his operations.
Solano said the commission has provided only about half the funding generated by a ballot initiative approved by voters that’s projected to produce about $900,000 per year for public safety.
There’s another side to this story, of course. Commissioners say the district attorney’s office was able to get by with $177,000 from the county last year, without dismissing any cases. They say Solano hasn’t been willing to provide an itemized expense report since taking office 17 months ago and failed to show at budget hearings last year.
The commissioners say Solano has been unwilling to meet with them, but Solano says that’s not true. In other words, it’s a classic case of “he said, they said.”
Meanwhile, people who commit crimes in the 3rd Judicial District are escaping justice temporarily, if not permanently. Even if the funding dispute gets resolved, it’s quite possible that some of the suspects whose charges were provisionally dismissed might have made themselves scarce from Las Animas and Huerfano counties.
Simply put, the two sides need to work this out -- and quickly. If Solano’s caseload has risen dramatically enough to require more funding, he ought to be able to document that. That information should be a matter of public record, anyway.
And if Solano can provide documentation, the commissioners should provide the funding for the purpose voters intended. (If Solano’s caseload doesn’t justify more funding, it’s an excellent question as to what should happen to the excess money.)
If the two sides can’t resolve this themselves, then they should seek a solution through a formal mediation process. The important thing to remember is that whoever ends up “winning” this standoff, the losers in the meantime will be the people of Las Animas and Huerfano counties.
You know, the people the district attorney and the commissioners in both counties were elected to represent.
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Aug. 19, on energy-related ballot measures:
Of the seven proposed citizens’ initiatives that are trying to qualify for the November ballot, two stand out for their dangerous repercussions and should be rejected if voters are forced to decide the measures’ fate.
If the next Colorado governor inherits either Initiative 97 or Initiative 108 or both, catastrophic results await state and local governments.
Let’s start with Initiative 97. It’s a statutory proposal to create a 2,500-foot setback from occupied structures or other “vulnerable areas” for new oil and gas development. That’s a significant increase from the 500-foot setback currently in place.
According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, this initiative would eliminate new drilling on 95 percent of the surface land in the state’s top five oil and gas producing counties and 85 percent of the state’s non-federal land.
It would cost the state, local governments and schools proceeds from billions of dollars in lost oil and gas revenues, said Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which has joined a coalition of business groups in the state opposing the initiative.
“We are a state that already has some of the most stringent regulations on the energy industry, which are developed through a public process under the purview of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission,” Schwenke said. “That is where rules should be made, not at the ballot box.”
Because it’s essentially a de facto ban on new drilling, Initiative 97 is among the most contentious to arise this year, rivaled only by Initiative 108, which appears to be a counter-measure to 97′s implications for the energy industry, but goes much farther. As bad as 97 is, 108 may be worse.
For one thing it proposes changing the state constitution to enable property owners to seek compensation if a law or regulation reduces their land’s “fair market value.” Embedding policy in the state constitution is never a good idea and always rife with unintended consequences for which there are no easy fixes.
Under current law, a government has to compensate for a “total taking,” either by eminent domain or when a government action leaves a property with no economic use. Switching just compensation requirements to “fair market value” is a plaintiff’s lawyer’s wildest dream.
The Colorado Municipal League warns Initiative 108 “could spawn countless and expensive lawsuits over a myriad of basic local land-use decisions such as zoning or the siting of municipal facilities.”
It would force local governments to assess the risk of a lawsuit on any action it considers. Sam Mamet, executive director of the CML, told Colorado Poltics reporter Mark Jaffe, “My advice to counties and municipalities is if this passes, don’t do anything . no zoning, no ordinances.”
The cost of defending lawsuits or paying to cover a multitude of small dimunitions in property could bankrupt some municipalities or force them to cede their authority to control growth and development. That’s a stiff price to pay for a measure that ostensibly seeks to mitigate the impacts of Initiative 97.
Either of these measures is terrible for Colorado. If both pass, this holy war between anti-drilling activists and industry defenders will have achieved a state of mutually assured destruction.
That’s why it’s important for supporters of both measures to consider withdrawing them from consideration for the ballot. We need a truce on this standoff or voters are going to decide. And if it comes to that, we’ll be urging voters to reject both measures as the only sane and reasonable outcome to this madness.