Vail Daily column: Seeking common sense
Colorado taxpayers scored a win for transparency last week in the state Senate. Initially the Colorado Senate State Affairs Committee buried Senate Bill 16-038. Introduced by Sen. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver), the bill was intended to increase oversight of nonprofit organizations that provide services for adults with developmental disabilities and receive substantial taxpayer funding.
The bill was resurrected in committee and the Colorado Open Records Act provision removed. Instead, community-centered boards will be subject to audit every five years. The bill passed out of committee with a unanimous vote. It now heads to the full Senate. Proponents of the law did not get the unlimited access to financial records they were looking for, but they got periodic audits that will likely ensure community-centered boards maintain stricter control over their spending.
Sen. Aguilar’s bill did not arise from a diabolical plot to increase government regulation. A 2015 audit of a Denver community-centered board revealed numerous financial improprieties and its director was forced to resign. Therefore, Sen. Aguilar’s bill emerged from a verifiable concern that community-centered boards were not accountable to the public despite relying almost entirely on public funding. Proponents of Sen. Aguilar’s bill simply wanted to know how the money was spent.
The advocates of less government regulation met the advocates of more financial accountability halfway in a rare display of political compromise. Don’t get used to it.
In today’s political climate compromise is a dirty word. When compromises are reached politicians are accused of “backing down” or “caving.” Former House Speaker John Boehner once claimed, “I reject the word.” He could get away with it — he frequently ran unopposed in his staunchly Republican district.
Sarah Binder, of the Brookings Institute, provides empirical context to the gridlock at the federal level. From 1947 until 2000, Congressional sessions averaged 100 conference agreements. That number has been declining with the most recent Congress managing only seven conference agreements. According to Binder this obstructionist trend traces it roots to the passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. It was from that point that the two main political parties became increasingly polarized. Internally they have each become less ideologically diverse. As positions hardened and both parties shifted left and right, common ground all but disappeared.
Heavily gerrymandered districts mean members of Congress frequently represent highly partisan constituencies. In this climate, any deviation from orthodoxy is punished at the ballot box. Just ask former state Sen. Jean White, a Republican representing District 8, which includes Summit, Garfield, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Grand and Jackson counties. She voted her conscience and supported civil unions and it cost her the primary to challenger Randy Baumgardner. He went on to win the general election in 2012 and was appointed chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
That is the committee that voted on party lines to kill Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush’s tire tread bill House Bill 1039 for the second year in a row. After searching online I could not find a single editorial in opposition to the bill. Baumgardner simply dismissed the bill as unnecessary. The state Department of Transportation did not think the bill was unnecessary. Colorado Department of Transportation along with the State Patrol, various business groups, local governments and 13 Republicans in the House supported the bill. In fact, more than a year ago the transportation department provided this insight into the scale of this problem: “Feb. 9, CDOT’s Courtesy Patrol program relocated 22 vehicles on eastbound I-70 between Silverthorne and Eisenhower Tunnel. Of the 22 vehicles, 19 had bald tires and 18 had in-state plates. The 22 were only a small fraction of the spun-out vehicles that needed assistance, which contributed to the heavy congestion and delayed commute.”
Sometimes the public interest is served through compromise as with Sen. Aguilar’s financial transparency bill. All too often however, partisanship prevails as in the case of House Bill 1039. Rep. Mitsch Bush has indicated she will resubmit the tire tread bill in the next legislation session. Hopefully next time common sense and public safety will prevail over partisanship.
Claire Noble is the author of “State-Sponsored Sex and Other Tales of International Misadventure.” She can be found online at www.clairenoble.org or follow her on Twitter @byClaireNoble.
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