A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
The Denver Post, Dec. 26, on why U.S. House Republicans' focus on tax rates is undermining a 'fiscal cliff' solution:
Less than one week remains until this nation goes off the "fiscal cliff," and yet that's apparently just fine with a minority of House Republicans who embarrassed Speaker John Boehner last week when they rejected his "Plan B." Their logic is beyond understanding.
Plan B never had a chance of getting through the Senate, but at least it was a proposal that signaled Republican willingness to pass a tax plan incorporating rate hikes for some high-income Americans — in this case with incomes above $1 million — while not going as far as President Obama proposes. Meanwhile, it also demonstrated a spirit of compromise by lawmakers whose opposition to tax hikes for any income group is all but legendary.
Finally, passage of Plan B might have put pressure on President Obama to counter with something new of his own lest he be seen as inflexible.
Incredibly, however, a minority of Republican lawmakers, resolved to hold the line on taxes, have maneuvered the GOP into the scapegoat's role in the fiscal negotiations. Meanwhile, they appear strangely complacent about the fact that once the nation goes off the cliff, almost any plausible scenario that follows is unlikely to result in a deal as favorable as Plan B from their point of view.
Once tax rates go up on everyone, as they will on Jan. 1 if nothing is done, it will require an act of Congress to lower them again. And at that point the White House and Senate Democrats are likely to possess even more leverage than today.
After all, Republicans will presumably be as eager as Democrats to restore lower rates for taxpayers making up to $250,000, and be in just as much of a hurry, too. Are hard-line Republicans honestly prepared to balk at restoring lower rates for 98 percent of American wage earners unless upper-income Americans are included in the deal?
Talk about a political death wish.
Although a trip over the fiscal cliff appears increasingly likely, it is still not inevitable if the president and Boehner could cut a deal that appeals to some House Democrats, too. However, the likelihood of that seems pretty slim, too. Boehner had resorted to Plan B in the first place, he contends, because he'd despaired of negotiating with the president.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the intransigence among some Republicans is that the drama has diverted attention from spending issues. Even Obama's plan to raise taxes on income of 250,000 and up would collect less than $25 billion in additional revenue next year — a relatively paltry sum when compared to our trillion-dollar deficits.
Serious plans to trim the deficit require less popular medicine — as well as fiscal conservatives willing to do more than indulge in theatrical gestures that undermine their credibility.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, Dec. 23, on extension of federal tax cuts could mean economic results:
As the fiscal cliff looms, and politicians debate taxes and spending, we see news of economic hope. Friday's print and electronic editions of The Gazette carried uplifting headlines, including:
—"State's jobless rate drops to 7.7 percent"
—"Springs foreclosure picture continues to brighten"
—"U.S. economy grew at 3.1 percent in summer
—"U.S. home sales surge to highest level in 3 years"
A business story by Gazette reporter Ned Hunter started like this: "The Santa business, like the overall economy, is slowly bouncing back."
The article told of a growing Santa demand at malls and private parties, which could be some strange indicator of improving economic welfare.
While 3.1 percent growth is relatively good, and may explain improvements in housing and employment, the magic number is greater than 3.3 percent growth in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. That is the annual growth rate this country's economy has averaged since World War II.
"That's because 3.3%-plus growth, sustained over multiple years, and not just captured in a quarterly spike, sustains a positive feedback loop," wrote Richard Karlgaard, for Forbes, in October of 2010. "Investors feel good and start pulling their money out of non-productive assets like gold. Employers feel good and start hiring. Consumers feel good and start buying. That's what real 3.3%-plus growth would do for America, and what sickly 0% to 3% growth can never do."
As Karlgaard explained, Americans are accustomed to robust growth and feel miserable when the economy grows too slowly. A growing population is a double-edged sword. It can spur economic growth, as more consumers can result in more sales and production. But population growth without corresponding economic growth can result in economic misery, as static supplies of goods, services and commodities are rationed, through price inflation, to supply the growing base of consumers.
Economic growth is not something that results from consumer demand alone. If it did, this would be simple. We could take from the wealthy and give to the middle class and poor. Recipients would spend the cash, thus creating demand that could be filled by companies that create jobs.
Problem is, money taken from successful taxpayers to fund government is money no longer available for investment into growth ventures.
"The single most important contributor to a nation's economic growth is the number of startups that grow to a billion dollars in revenue within 20 years," said economist, attorney and multi-subject professor Carl Schramm, as quoted by Forbes.
Schramm explained that our economy must facilitate the startups of at least 75 ventures each year that will become billion-dollar earners within two decades in order to maintain growth of 3.3 percent or more.
Most startup ventures fail, which means investors must put extraordinary amounts of money at risk to create even a few big-growth companies. The more the investor class spends on government, the less it has to invest in startup ventures that are essential to the growth we need for employment gains, a vibrant housing market and all other manifestations of prosperity. History tells us that rising tax obligations reduce investments in growth. Yes, our country has enjoyed prosperity under high tax burdens — as in the Clinton years. Arguably, that's because of lagging results from earlier investments.
The somewhat positive headlines we've seen recently may be fruits of President Barack Obama's decision two years ago to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts. We're relatively certain that higher taxes on success will not lead the successful to invest more heavily in growth. We fear it may lead them to shelter more capital in safe, non-productive assets — just as the economy was beginning to improve. Without vigorous economic growth, coupled with better control of government spending, we stand no chance of emerging from debt. We cannot tax and save our way out of the federal government's mess. We can only grow and save our way out.
Longmont Times-Call, Dec. 20, on improving state statistics on abused and neglected children:
Colorado's perennial problem with trying to improve the grim statistics on abused and neglected children will likely be addressed again in the legislative session beginning in January. Since 2007, 175 children in Colorado have died of abuse and neglect, as reported in a recent series by The Denver Post/9 News.
The numbers are appalling but the actual circumstances of the deaths of these children are shocking. Coloradans must work more diligently and thoughtfully to correct the weaknesses in our state's child protection system.
Of the 175 children who died, 75 of them were known to caseworkers, leading to obvious questions about how effective our system is.
For a state that prides itself on doing so many things well, it's time to admit that this situation needs major renewed attention at the state, county and local levels.
The series reported that among the hopes for 2013 are that the system can become more transparent, that state oversight can be strengthened and that the workloads of caseworkers can be monitored more effectively to guard against kids "falling through the cracks."
Colorado is one of nine states that has a county-based child protection system. The state is involved because it administers the program, and the effectiveness of that is also under scrutiny. While undoubtedly there are many hardworking and dedicated caseworkers in Colorado, there have been too many turf wars between branches of government, and some of the 64 counties have resisted reporting on their activities to the state. It's time to put egos aside and put the children first.
Caseworkers in more than half of the child abuse deaths in the past six years did not adhere to state policy on investigating neglect and abuse allegations. Also, disciplinary histories of caseworkers are not known to proper authorities in state government. This topic is left to those at the county level.
In addition to better communication and accountability, Colorado also needs hundreds more foster families to care for children, the series reported.
By themselves, abused and neglected children do not have a very strong voice to plead for protection. State and county government and all Colorado communities must make a renewed and sustained effort to work diligently to stop these child deaths from abuse and neglect.
Aurora Sentinel, Dec. 20, on how Colorado governor renewing focus on mental health services:
Colorado and the nation have a long ways to go in keeping us all safer from gun violence.
But Gov. John Hickenlopper took at least a small step forward this week by proposing a renewed focus on mental health services in Colorado. The changes he proposed are tentative, and far from what's needed not only to provide for desperately needed mental health services, but also for services that might somehow stop assaults and murders.
After months of focus, Hickenlooper is asking state lawmakers to provide an additional $19 million to expand statewide mental health services, which would include a crisis hotline and five always-open walk-in centers.
It's a start, but Hickenlooper and others are naive if they believe this might make a substantive dent in the incredible need for services in Colorado, or that this alone would be enough to create a community safer from gun violence than it is today. A safer community depends just as much on gun control reform, if not more. But increasing mental health services is equally needed, only the need calls for much, much more.
Last year, a report revealed that states and the federal government had cut a whopping $2 billion from mental health programs across the country, sending already overloaded and nearly meaningless resources to the breaking point. Here and across the country, massive cuts to mental health services in the 1960s and 1980s have been combined with consistent and pervasive smaller reductions in services. The entire problem is made worse because mental health services still carry a stigma with most of the population, and many health insurance companies provide unsatisfactory and often no benefits for paying members.
Truly, when looking at some cases of horrendous gun violence, including right here in Aurora in the case of James Holmes and the July 20 theater shootings, the deadly shooting melee that left former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords with brain damage, and most likely the recent slaughter of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, prophylactic mental health intervention might have prevented these massacres.
But as with so many deadly and critical issues in the United States, our shortsightedness means that we prefer a government that deals with dangerous problems after the fact, rather than head them off. A host of Colorado lawmakers irresponsibly gutted mental health programs during the 1990s in an effort to reduce the size of Colorado's government. Now, those who would have been much happier, healthier and productive persons, are being treated by state-sponsored mental health programs. They have become expensive liabilities in prison cells and state hospitals.
It's a lesson that legislators never seem to learn. By ignoring the real mental health needs of so many here and across the country, hoping they'll just go away or really not caring about those who are suffering, we create a system that costs so much more in providing an endless list of other, more expensive programs and services to people who just don't function.
It's not just state officials who just don't get it. In 2006, Aurora lawmakers killed an effort by Aurora Mental Health to create a mental health district at bargain rates to ensure residents with psychological problems get the treatment they need to keep them living productive lives instead of becoming expensive liabilities in prisons, state hospitals and unemployment programs. We could not create a more expensive or ineffective way to deal with health care in the United States if we tried.
So while we applaud Hickenlooper for recognizing Colorado's shortfall when it comes to mental health services, we want to point out how little this proposal really offers compared to what's needed. As the state Legislature reconvenes in January, we would hope state House and Senate leaders find a way to expand on the governor's recommendations.