Archive for the 'Citizens’ Budget' Category

3 Bills a Result of Our Citizens’ Budget Project

Posted by on Feb 07 2012 | Citizens' Budget, pera, PPC, Taxes

When we embarked on our Citizens’ Budget project two years ago, we wanted it to be a big deal. It had to be, it was an enormous undertaking. We wanted to leave no stone unturned in our quest for a fiscally sound Colorado state budget. The project ended up requiring months of time from our most dedicated researchers and writers. In the end, we had a 170 page document that touched on all areas of our budget and offered sound solutions to our most urgent needs. Additionally, we made a 6-page executive summary of our findings for those who don’t want the big kahuna.

When the Citizens’ Budget first dropped, we found it was extremely popular with the Tea Party and limited government crowd. We ordered hundreds of physical copies and could hardly keep those puppies in stock! But when it came to our state legislature, there was hardly a peep. 2011 came and went and we wondered why no legislators jumped on any of our suggestions. Yeah, some of them are politically unpopular, but many of them are not. What gives?

But now in 2012 some brave state legislators have taken up the cause for fiscal responsibility! For a great overview of 3 bills working their way through the legislature thanks to our project, look no further than Wayne Laugesen’s editorial in today’s Colorado Springs Gazette. Wayne praises our Citizens’ Budget and goes on to explain how our suggestions to shore up the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) made their way into 3 bills thus far.

The first is a bill carried by Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker. The bill “would cap the health benefit for early retirees at $230 a month and eliminate health care payments for retirees who have reached the age of eligibility for Medicare.” Secondly, we have Senate Bill 119 carried by Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton. His bill “would force the board of directors of PERA to adjust benefits in order to “maintain the long-term actuarial soundness of each trust fund.” Our Fiscal Policy Center director and lead author of the Citizens’ Budget Penn Pfiffner gives a great explanation of exactly what that means,

“Today, the PERA board tells state government to get the money it needs. This bill says they have to adjust benefits accordingly. Once taxpayers have made their contribution, it will be up to PERA to make it work. We would no longer be responsible for how PERA handles the money.

Finally we have a Senate Bill 82 carried by Sen. Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch. His bill “would increase the age at which new public employees would be eligible for retirement benefits.” For example, today some new hires can plan on retiring at 58 years old thanks to PERA. Sen. Harvey’s bill would increase the age to 68 – the same as Social Security.

It’s exciting to see that the tremendous work our research team did two years ago is bearing fruit in 2012. We encourage all legislators to read their copy of our Citizens’ Budget (yes, you have one. If you can’t find yours, contact us immediately!) and take on the challenge to strike at the heart of our continued budget deficits. What’s the heart of our budget issues? As Penn Pfiffner says, “it’s a structural problem.” In other words, it’s time we discard all the accounting gimmicks we have to use each year to balance the budget. If the Citizens’ Budget were in charge, we wouldn’t need any tricks to fix a deficit because there wouldn’t be a deficit year after year.

Read more about the Citizens’ Budget project here.

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Update: Issue Papers and Events Galore!

Posted by on Oct 05 2011 | Citizens' Budget, energy, Environment, Events, Government Largess, PPC, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation

Hellooooo Intertube world! Things are exploding over here at Independence. It seems everyone around our little liberty village has something to say. First up, we’ve got some brand new Issue Papers. Under the guidance of Amy Oliver, Colorado’s Queen of Transparency, Kyle Huwa wrote Issue Paper number 6 titled, Governor’s Energy Office Needs a Dose of Sunshine. From the executive summary:

The Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) of the State of Colorado spent a total of $121,652,884.75 from January 2008 to November 2010. This report aims to clarify and provide transparency to the GEO’s spending. Despite best efforts, the exact nature of many of the expenditures remains unclear.

Indeed, the governor’s energy office’s spending remains unclear to the very people who made that spending possible – us taxpayers. Let us check the books!

Next up we have an extremely timely Issue Paper from Senior Fellow and ex-Professor of Economics at CU Barry Poulson. Along with co-author John Merrifield of the University of Texas, Barry wrote Issue Paper number 7, Proposition 103: What is the Cost to Colorado Taxpayers? It turns out (surprise surprise) that the estimated $2.9 billion tax increase known as Prop 103 will actually cost taxpayers closer to $6 billion. Not to mention over 11,000 jobs and a whopping $2,711 per household! But hey, it’s “for the children” right?

While we’re on the subject, I’d like to remind everyone about a free event coming up that will focus on our state’s budget issues with a long-term view. It’s called Colorado’s Long-Term Budget Dilemma: Two Perspectives. The event is this Tuesday the 11th, downtown at the Denver Press Club. So who are the two perspectives? One will be our very own Fiscal Policy Center Director Penn Pfiffner, who will talk about the findings from our Citizens’ Budget project. The other perspective will be Phyllis Resnick, principal economist for DU’s Center for Colorado’s Economic Future who will be presenting the findings from DU’s study, Financing Colorado’s Future: An Analysis of the Fiscal Sustainability of State Government. We hope you’ll join us for this informative and FREE event next week!

In other exciting news, Transportation expert and Independence Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole will be in town next week! In case you are unfamiliar with Randal, you can check out his blog, The Antiplanner and his latest book, “Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to do About It.” Randal will be in town for just a couple days but in that short time he’ll be hosting three events. The first is on Tuesday the 11th at Gander Mountain in Thornton. Randal will be presenting to Hear Us Now on his book, “The Best Laid Plans.” The event is free and will start at 6pm. On Wednesday the 12th, Randal will be heading up to the Olive Garden in Boulder for a lunch event. Here are the details for the Boulder event found on the Land Use Coalition’s webpage. Finally, that same Wednesday the 12th, Randal is going to be the featured speaker at a special Liberty on the Rocks event. Here are the event details:

The True Environmental Impact of Rail ProjectsConverse and drink with fellow liberty enthusiasts on Wednesday, October 12 at Choppers Sports Grill in Cherry Creek from 7-9 pm!

Our special guest for this bonus happy hour will be Randal O’Toole of the CATO Institute, who will spend 10-15 minutes (followed by Q & A) discussing the harmful impact high speed rail has on the environment (despite claims that it is about “going green”).

When: Wednesday, October 12 from 7-9 pm
Where: Choppers Sports Grill | 80 S. Madison Street in Denver (in the back room)

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What’s Up With Our Budget? FREE Event!

Posted by on Oct 03 2011 | Citizens' Budget, Events, PPC, TABOR, Taxes

We have a brand new event for you guys on our state’s long-term budget woes. We know you’ve heard about DU’s budget study and our Citizens’ Budget report, but have you heard both perspectives in the same room at the same time?!? Probably not! Here is the information for our upcoming event next Tuesday the 11th.

Colorado’s Long-Term Budget Dilemma: Two Perspectives

Penn Pfiffner, Independence Institute Fiscal Policy Center Director and Citizen’s Budget Author will offer his budget perspective based on the findings of our Citizens Budget project.

Phyllis Resnick, principal economist for DU’s Center for Colorado’s Economic Future will offer DU’s recent findings on Colorado’s budget from their report Financing Colorado’s Future: An Analysis of the Fiscal Sustainability of State Government.

October 11, 2011
2 P.M. to 4 P.M.
At the Denver Press Club
1330 Glenarm Place
Denver, Colorado

Admission is FREE! Advance reservation is required. RSVP online to Mary MacFarlane at
Or call Mary at 303-279-6536, ext. 102

Hope to see you there!

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Budget, Fiscal Policy Debate

Posted by on May 04 2011 | Citizens' Budget, Economics, Economy, Government Largess, PPC, TABOR, Taxes

Last week our resident economist and Health Care Policy director Linda Gorman went to UC-Denver to debate Carol Hedges on our state budget hole. Typical with any debate on state funding and public services, the arguments eventually boiled down to what each person believed ought to be funded and provided by government. In other words, a “what’s the role of government” type debate. I want you to watch the debate because it is important we understand the real arguments on the other side. Too often we write blog posts mowing down caricatures and argue amongst ourselves using strawmen we’ve created of the other side. In the video however, you’ll see Carol Hedges accurately represents what many on her side feel, using arguments she genuinely and sincerely believes in. It’s imperative we be able to reply to these real talking points. Granted, being sincere doesn’t make you right. And as you’ll see, Linda does a superb job of articulating our stance to a room full of people who fundamentally disagree with her (and us). I might be biased, but I think she comes out ahead in the end. And she gets extra brownie points for bringing up our Citizens’ Budget project!

PS – You need to have a movie player like VLC in order to watch the video. Unfortunately the video link we got from the presentation requires VLC (download it here) or a similar movie player. I wish it were a simple .mov file or something :(

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Citizens’ Budget at CU-Denver

Posted by on Apr 05 2011 | Citizens' Budget, Events, Government Largess, PPC, TABOR, Taxes

Fiscal Policy Center director Penn Pfiffner is at it again, spreading the good ideas inside our Citizens’ Budget project. This time he’s taking his presentation on the road and sharing it with an audience at the CU-Denver’s Anschutz Medical Campus downtown. We’d love for you to come out and enjoy a fantastic lunch presentation this Thursday, the 7th from noon to 1pm on the CU-Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. And best of all, the event is FREE!! Details can be found on the flyer posted below.

To RSVP online, please go here.

(Click to enlarge)

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VIDEO: Citizens’ Budget Sing Along

Posted by on Apr 04 2011 | Citizens' Budget, Government Largess, PPC, Taxes

Who knew a song about the budget, taxes, spending, and policy making could be so much fun??

Please share our song, 50 Ways to Cut Colorado Spending and our Citizens’ Budget project.

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No, It’s Not a Revenue Problem

Posted by on Apr 02 2011 | Citizens' Budget, Government Largess, PPC, Taxes

We can always count on our good friend John Andrews to give us some good press – this time on the opinion pages of the Denver Post. Last week John asked a great question, “Who says Colorado has a revenue problem?” In the article, John mentions our work with the Citizens’ Budget project. In it, we propose fixing our structural and perpetual budget gaps the right way – without raising taxes or fees. John agrees with our take on the matter. He insists, like we do, that there is no “revenue problem,” only a spending problem. Thanks for the kind words John, we appreciate it.

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Citizens’ Budget Facts of the Day, part 3

Posted by on Mar 21 2011 | Citizens' Budget, PPC

Government redistributes tax dollars to private businesses to further “economic development.” The intent is to intervene in the economy so that new jobs are created; these jobs then supposedly will multiply through the economy as wages from the jobs and purchases of materials and other inputs provide new income to supporting businesses. It is the dream, vision and expressed intent behind the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funding, and the hope of governments at all levels.

Yet it is increasingly understood that such programs actually result in a lower general standard of living.

The Statewide Bridge Enterprise forecasts that revenues will exceed $100 million annually after a three-year phase-in period.

Elected officials raise these revenues from a surcharge, the Bridge Safety Fee, levied as part of the new vehicle registration fees. The enabling legislation is wrong in several ways. It is really a tax, not a fee. The charge is based on the weight of each truck and not on the frequency that any particular truck uses a Colorado bridge. As a tax, it required prior voter approval, which was never requested.

Deserving further study is reaction to allegations that wage and salary levels of state employees are higher than for similar jobs in the private sector.[i] Setting the base wages and salaries is done annually by use of surveys of comparable positions. How then do we end up with the average pay exceeding comparable private sector jobs? Do surveys of other government positions really identify market comparables? Do surveys capture the value of the security of a government job? How can a measure of turnover be used to assess pay level? Are the level of health care and other benefits truly reflected in total remuneration figures?

[i] Protected Class, Wendell Cox. Protected Class II, Wendell Cox.

Direct CDOT to investigate improving mobility on U.S. 287 by establishing new truck-fee-financed, truck-only lanes.
Trucks and automobiles are not particularly compatible. Their use of the same facilities drives up costs while reducing safety and carrying capacity. Truck traffic counts comprise about 10 percent of vehicles but consume nearly 30 percent of highway capacity. Thus, removing trucks from some highways effectively would increase capacity by 30 percent for automobiles. Trucks pay a lot in taxes and fees which, if isolated for exclusive use of trucks, might be enough revenue to construct their own truck-only lanes.[i] Design standards for separate automobile and truck facilities would allow both to become more cost-effective and safe.

[i] Peter Samuel, Robert W. Poole, Jr., and José Holguin-Veras, Toll Truckways: A New Path Toward Safer and More Efficient Freight Transportation, Reason Foundation Policy Study 294 (June 2002),

Our research shows the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing has been overly reliant on policy suggestions and “research” provided by private foundations with agendas that are often at odds with the welfare of Colorado patients and taxpayers. It has accepted large amounts of money from those foundations to fund extensive “technical support” programs and to create various small institutions that can be relied on for friendly staffing of proliferating committees, commissions, and boards. As a result, it is increasingly difficult to pinpoint who is actually making policy within the Department. The small foundation-supported institutions also can be relied upon to join coalitions that provide political cover for state officials intent on transferring more money and power from private sector health programs to public ones.

For more information about this topic, go to , leave a message at the Independence Institute at 303-279-6536 or reach Penn Pfiffner directly at or at 303-233-7731.

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Citizens’ Budget Facts of the Day

Posted by on Mar 07 2011 | Citizens' Budget, PPC

In 1991, predating TABOR, the legislature passed a statute to ensure appropriations for operations would not expend more than 6 percent over the prior year[i]. The legislature recently[ii] removed the restriction. Exempted from the Arveschoug-Bird limitation was the State’s one-time “capital development” funds, used to catch up on deferred maintenance, to fund highway construction, or to erect or remodel state buildings and college facilities.

Restore Arveschoug-Bird, else day-to-day operations can, and likely will, consume all the General Fund revenues. Money for capital outlays has dried up, so building upkeep, remodeling and new construction will continue to be deferred. The new system has already provided incentive to spend any unused funds in whatever fashion will max out the annual appropriation, however inefficacious that expenditure may be.

[i] The limitation also must conform to a growth limit of a change in personal income over 5 percent, but this economic measure of the entire economy will rarely come into play.
[ii] Senate Bill 2009-228 by Senator Morse and Representatives Marostica and Court, “Concerning an Increase in the Flexibility of the General Assembly to Determine the Appropriate Use of State Revenues.”

The Governor’s Energy Office is not connected to any State Department and operates off-budget. The legislature has little say in the flow of dollars into the Office’s programs, nor any say in how the funds are disbursed. Oversight from the legislature, much less the citizenry, hardly exists and is practically impossible. Don’t believe us? Try going online and examining its budget.

The legislature should revisit the need to continue operating this Office as an independent agency. It is an excellent candidate for consolidation, freeing up administrative funds to support other Departments. Consolidation would also improve governance, as programs will once again be brought into the normal budgeting oversight.

Colorado’s Children’s Basic Health Plan (CBHP) enrollment fees are much lower than in some other states. CBHP co-pays are also absurdly low relative to both income eligibility limits and the real cost of medical care. Increases in co-pays have been shown to significantly reduce health service use without any effect on health. Simply adopting the New Hampshire enrollment fee of $25 per child per month would generate more than $18 million a year.

In 2010, the Children’s Basic Health Plan charged $2 to $5 per visit for medical care and prescriptions, $3 to $15 per visit for emergency services, and $5 for most dental services. For comparison, when Medicaid was created Congress set the maximum co-pay at $5. In inflation-adjusted terms, a $5 co-pay in 1965 would be $34.60 in 2010.

We benefit from a reminder that the state constitution strictly prohibits taking on public debt for companies and very explicitly prohibits any appropriation to be made “for charitable, industrial, educational or benevolent purposes to any person, corporation or community not under absolute control of the state….”[i] “Corporate welfare” on its face is a violation of the state constitution.

[i] Article XI, Section 1. “Pledging credit of state, county, city, town or school district forbidden,” and Article XI, Section 2. “No aid to corporations – no joint ownership by state, county, city, town, or school district,” and Article V, Section 34. “Appropriations to private institutions forbidden.”

Taxpayers and consumers want and deserve more mobility. Colorado’s transportation policy has been so politically influenced by special interests that it might be considered outright “anti-transportation” and anti-mobility. The Denver Regional Council of Governments reports for the Denver metro area between 2008 and 2011, of the $1.8 billion state and federal transportation funds for transportation “two-thirds is for transit.”[i]

Buses and light rail combined account for only 2 percent of all miles traveled, yet use 55 percent of the budget.[ii] Within the transit segment, buses do the bulk of the lifting, with rail consuming the bulk of the funding and contributing a fraction of mobility. In cost-effectiveness terms, transit costs taxpayers 60 times[iii] more per unit of benefit than other forms of transportation.

[i] Vincent Carroll, “Don’t Let RTD Go Alone,” Denver Post, March 22, 2009,
[ii] Randal O’Toole, “We Told You So: Transportation Edition, Part 2″ Video clip, min 7:30,
[iii] Cost-Benefit of transit compared to that of other modes is 27.5 divided by 0.45 = 60.

For more information about this topic, go to , leave a message at the Independence Institute at 303-279-6536 or reach Penn Pfiffner directly at or at 303-233-7731.

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Citizens’ Budget Panel Event Audio

Posted by on Mar 03 2011 | Citizens' Budget, Economics, Events, Government Largess,, PPC, TABOR, Taxes

On Wednesday March 2nd, the Independence Institute held a panel event at the University Club in Denver to discuss the solutions presented in the Citizens’ Budget project. Presenters included project director Penn Pfiffner, Education Center policy analyst Ben DeGrow, Health Care Policy Center director Linda Gorman, and Fiscal Policy Center senior fellow Barry Poulson. Each presented for around 10 to 15 minutes, with a questions and answers period at the end of the event. All presentations, including the introduction, closing remarks, and Q & A have been recorded.

For those of you unable to make it, we’ve compiled the presentations by each speaker in individual podcasts. Feel free to download these podcasts and share them with others who might be interested.

  • Introduction from Citizens’ Budget project director Penn Pfiffner: AUDIO here.
  • Ben DeGrow on K-12 education spending policy: AUDIO here.
  • Barry Poulson on higher education spending policy and PERA: AUDIO here.
  • Closing remarks from Penn Pfiffner and Q & A: AUDIO here.

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