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Colorado Editorial Roundup

September 12, 2019

The Colorado Springs Gazette, Sept. 9, on solving the student loan debt problem:

Today’s Perspective feature, in The Gazette’s recently expanded Sunday editorial section, grapples with the nationwide dilemma of student loan debt as people begin their fall semesters.

Our articles, which originated in our sister publication The Washington Examiner and The Wall Street Journal, discuss the implications of outstanding student loan debt totaling $1.6 trillion at the end of June. That is more than triple the number two decades ago.

The main feature shares the story of a recent graduate with an early childhood education degree and a $70,000 loan debt that paid for it. The wage for a new preschool teacher typically starts in the $20,000s. One making double that salary would have a difficult time keeping up with a $70,000 debt, plus interest while paying for basic food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. It just doesn’t add up.

Another subject described in the lead article borrowed $60,000 to pay for a master’s degree that led to a career as a social worker. The woman fell behind on the loan, unable to land a large enough wage. Unpaid interest grew, and in less than 10 years her debt was six figures. Unlike standard consumer debt, borrowers cannot discharge student loans in bankruptcy.

We need early childhood education professionals. We need social workers. We need institutions that educate them and other professionals essential to our lives. Economically, we have to make it work.

These stories are common, as 25% of outstanding student loans are delinquent.

People along the political spectrum are worried. Young generations carrying this much debt cannot afford to buy houses and cars or qualify for financing. That threatens national economic stagnation as the problem grows. It also cultivates a demographic of young adults bitter at their inability to live as their parents and grandparents, who more typically bought homes and cars and began families in their 20s and 30s. This leaves them open to political pandering about “free college,” ″basic guaranteed incomes,” ″economic security for those unable or unwilling to work,” ″full college loan forgiveness,” and other fiscal nonsense that would sink the economy.

States attorneys general want a slice of the action, suing the student loan servicing giant Navient for “unfair and deceptive practices” in trying to collect student debts. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser filed a “friend of the court” brief last week, backing the plaintiffs’ position. Weiser claims U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who answers to President Donald Trump, abandons students and shields companies such as Navient “from accountability.” The conflict involves the company’s resistance to granting applications for student loan forgiveness or relief.

“Many student loan servicers have engaged in a broad range of unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices such as overcharging borrowers and steering them into expensive repayment plans,” Weiser said in a statement Tuesday.

We don’t know if Weiser’s claim is true. Regardless, we have a growing student loan problem, and the solution does not rest in one or several lawsuits that chip away at the margins.

Unsecured, government-backed student loans have become the only means for most middle-and lower-class young people to obtain college educations. Typically, their parents cannot afford tuition, but their wages disqualify them for Pell grants and other “free” assistance.

The growing availability of loans gives ability and incentive for colleges and universities to raise tuition costs at a rate outpacing the consumer price index. The more students can borrow, the more their classes cost. The upward spiral leaves students in higher debt each year.

Higher education is too important to become too expensive for some who desire it.

One outside-the-box idea in our Perspective section contemplates reducing the cost of higher education by shortening the duration of earning degrees. It sounds extreme on the surface, but Chicago-based lawyer David Simon details how colleges in other countries have less protracted degree programs.

Simon explains how some domestic institutions of higher education have combined undergraduate and graduate programs to shorten obtaining law, medical and other advanced degrees.

Pikes Peak Community College, here in Colorado Springs, offers a highly respected new bachelor’s degree in nursing at substantial savings when compared with most traditional four-year colleges.

Let’s consider allowing more full degrees at community colleges, for those who want good careers and don’t need to boast Ivy League credentials at cocktail parties. Streamlining and shortening degree programs would fall short of a panacea but could be part of a better plan.

None of this should seem hopeless. Colorado-based universities and colleges are taking innovative measures to curtail costs. They try to keep tuition in check and work with alumni and philanthropists to provide scholarships for students who need financial assistance but fall through the cracks.

We don’t claim to have all or most of the answers but urge the educational establishment, the business community and all political leaders to prioritize finding a solution to rising education costs and debt incurred by students.

The future of our culture and economy depend on a higher education system affordable and accessible to all.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2kbp5ft

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The Greeley Tribune, Sept. 8, on Democratic Gov. Jared Polis supporting the plant-based meat market:

We have a hard time believing Gov. Jared Polis didn’t know, at least to some extent, what he was doing.

Or maybe — to be more accurate — how he was doing it.

When Polis met this past month with officials from state Department of Agriculture, he suggested the department pursue getting in on the ground floor of the plant-based meat alternative market.

On the surface and in a vacuum, the suggestion isn’t necessarily a bad one. It’s probably just a good standard operating procedure for a department like that to keep up on the latest developments in agriculture to make sure the industry in Colorado remains among the best in the nation.

However, things start to go south when one considers how the message was delivered and who it was delivered to.

The pitch was made to the department that handles Colorado’s beef industry. Not only is beef Colorado’s largest export, it’s also the natural competition for plant-based meat alternatives on the consumer market.

Polis also illustrated his pitch with Impossible Burgers from Burger King — a largely soybean-based meat alternative. Soybeans aren’t a major crop in Colorado, and growing conditions dictate that probably won’t change.

Lastly, the message was delivered publicly, complete with social media messages.

When you combine those factors, we can understand why officials from the beef industry were insulted by Polis’ message. Polis, who talks often about being a landowner in Weld County, should know that particular message delivered like that wouldn’t go over well with folks who farm and ranch for a living.

We think he probably did.

And while we think there’s some value to Polis’ plea to keep the beef industry out of politics as much as possible — we’ll get into more of that later — the Governor again should know the political lines that already exist in an industry like that, and know how to act accordingly.

And again, we think he probably does. In fact, complete ignorance to all of these elements might be more alarming.

Either way, there was certainly a better way for him to deliver an idea like that, one that wouldn’t alienate a multibillion-dollar industry. And after such a divisive start to his term, we think it would be wise for Polis to consider who he’s trying to communicate with when he’s deciding how to deliver that message.

However, that doesn’t mean all the blowback generated by the meeting was warranted.

Like we said before, we understand why those from the industry were upset and, to a lesser extent, anyone else who realizes the value the industry has and thinks Polis could and should have done better.

But to suggest, as some commentators have, that Polis’ real goal is to eliminate the beef industry altogether is overstating the severity of the situation by more than a little bit.

For one, it’s just not true. Polis may have flubbed parts of this, but he’s too smart to think getting rid of a multibillion-dollar industry is a good idea. And there’s no conceivable reason why he would even want to do something like that to start with.

And even if there was, Colorado’s beef industry is way bigger and stronger than a governor.

That particular criticism of Polis takes on the same hyperbolic tone — one coming from talking heads on both sides of the aisle — as many of the hot-button political topics of the day, like immigration or oil and gas development. We’re not thrilled with the idea of that industry becoming fodder for political entertainment the same way those other industries and issues already have.

So moving forward, we hope all sides involved work together to keep the baloney out of our beef.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2lIkmCD

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The Denver Post, Sept. 6, on enforcing short-term rental policies:

We’re impressed Denver officials are using the sharp-teeth of enforcement to crack down on those who are violating the city’s aggressive short-term rental policy. Don’t want to face felony charges for your Airbnb or VRBO rental in Denver? Simply make sure the house or room for rent is your primary residence and don’t lie to public officials. If you don’t call the place home, rent it for 30 days or more.

It’s a hard concept for those who can make more money listing their rental properties as a short-term vacation rental online than they can by signing up renters for month-to-month (or longer) leases. But the city’s rules prohibit the practice and for good reason: short-term rentals have a disparate impact on neighborhoods whether they are single-family neighborhoods or dense urban communities where building dwellers share secure entrances and other facilities.

That was the impetus behind a 2014 task force that studied the issue and recommended only allowing short-term rentals when the house, apartment or condo is the owner’s primary residence. We were disappointed to learn in a 2018 City of Denver audit that enforcement of the rules stemming from that task force was lax, and we are impressed the city has turned things around. At least four individuals have been charged with felony violations in conjunction with efforts to skirt the city’s law.

Some argue that Denver officials are trying to protect the hotel industry. Perhaps, but what we care about is the reality that no one who buys a condo in a downtown building expects the surrounding units to be filled with a different stranger every week. Residents in Five Points shouldn’t be surrounded by small-scale hospitality businesses owned by far-away folks.

Now, there is a way that those adversely impacted by the law could respond — you know, a more productive way than falsifying documents and lying on affidavits. They could mount a campaign to amend the law.

For example, at one time this board advocated that the law should allow an individual to have one short-term rental in their name that is not their primary residence. Sure, it would be pushed to the limit — a husband and wife could each have a short-term rental, and then also rent out their home, but it’d still put serious brakes on the fear of VRBO and Airbnb’s taking over buildings and neighborhoods.

Such a compromise still makes sense we think, although we support the strong regulation of short-term rentals in this city. It’s true Denver is more restrictive than other cities when it comes to short-term rentals, but we think they are ahead of the curve. Property use regulation is one important job of city ordinances, anyone who says otherwise is not being intellectually honest.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/2kh39zO

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