Colorado Dems: a profile in political cowardice |

Colorado Dems: a profile in political cowardice

Speaking from limited personal experience, Colorado’s highways seem to be in pretty good shape. The only problem I’ve noticed recently is an electric Colorado Department of Transportation sign just east of Salida. For a couple of months, it said “WATCH FOR OCKS ON ROAD.”

We speculated that A) Somebody at CDOT doesn’t know how to spell “ox,” and B) that the errant steer, the “ocks” we were supposed to watch for, had been on U.S. 50 for a long time.

Beyond that, I have no complaints. But Gov. Bill Ritter’s blue-ribbon transportation panel took a long look at Colorado’s roads and bridges, and concluded that we needed to spend an extra $500 million a year just to maintain our roads, and a lot more than that to handle anticipated growth.

Where to get the money? Part of it might come from raising vehicle registration fees. A tax increase would require voter approval, but the legislature and governor can approve a fee increase all on their own.

But they did not.

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Gov. Ritter blamed Republicans. As a Democrat, I tend to blame Republicans for everything from hard winters to the extinction of the passenger pigeon.

However, Democrats have a 40-25 majority in the state House, a 20-15 majority in the state Senate, and a 1-0 majority in the governor’s office. They could have passed the fee increase without even consulting Republicans ” but even so, it’s the Republicans’ fault that highway funding is coming up short.

Why? According to Ritter, since no Republicans would sign on, then Democrats would be tagged with increasing fees, and Republicans would use it as a campaign issue this fall.

Statehouse Democrats running for re-election would “have to go out and get beat over the head by a Republican opponent saying that they unilaterally increased fees for transportation funding without us having conducted the necessary education campaign,” Ritter said.

Generally, Republicans support spending money on roads because roads encourage more gasoline consumption and thus enrich petroleum producers, and because roads enable land developers (another vital component of the party’s financial base).

But in this case, statehouse Republicans had nothing to gain by supporting the fee increase. If any had, it would have just provided some political cover for timid Democrats, who could then claim “bipartisan support.” Without that, Democrats would have to take some responsibility ” which they were afraid to do.

What, exactly, are Colorado Democrats scared of? That Dick Wadhams will roam our state, blasting away at “free-spending stealth-taxing Boulder-liberal wastrels that will squander your hard-earned dollars on Boulder-liberal pie-in-the-sky notions like strong bridges that don’t collapse, smooth highways without chuckholes, even free-flowing rush hours without lanes closed for repairs. Common-sense Colorado-values Republicans stand squarely against that Boulder-liberal stuff.”

Face it. If you believe something is necessary, you support it and make your case to the public. Gov. Roy Romer believed Denver needed a new airport, and he pestered Adams County voters at breakfast for months. Gov. Bill Owens believed in T-REX, swallowed some light rail to increase support, and went out and sold it.

Presumably, Gov. Ritter and statehouse Democrats believe the “Report to Colorado” from the Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel that explains how the state could suffer if more money is not found for road repair and maintenance.

If they believe the report, they should act. If they believe the report is wrong, they should denounce it. But instead of doing either, they cower. So what good does it do for them to be in the majority?

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