2009: The year the people woke up?
by Jessica Peck Corry
There are times when it hurts that your predictions comes true. It’s especially painful when it happens again and again, and its Colorado’s working families and small businesses who must shoulder the burden.
This week, as the Regional Transportation District is finally being forced to admit it has royally messed up its FasTracks light rail project, it is metro-area taxpayers who will suffer.
As the transit agency prepares to ask taxpayers for billions more in financial support, it concedes it has underplanned, overspent, and mismanaged construction timelines to the tune of $2.3 billion.
At the Independence Institute, where I am a policy analyst, we predicted such problems years ago as our president, Jon Caldara, launched a valiant though unsuccessful grassroots effort to stop RTD’s dreams of a massive light rail system. At the time, in 2004, he was harassed, belittled, ridiculed, and mocked. He was taunted as a regressive curmudgeon who hated the poor, the elderly, the environment, and the entire state of Colorado. But, as history has proven, his previous experience as RTD board chair gave him the foresight and the expertise to see that that RTD was selling taxpayers a false bill of goods upon which it could never honestly deliver. In the end, it was Caldara who was looking out for you.
Unfortunately, he was outmatched by a multi-million dollar campaign supported by chambers of commerce, beloved Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the Denver Post editorial page, leading liberal Republicans, and your tax dollars in a campaign that painted a pretty vision of a car-free utopia where every mother, father, and child could live within the glorious walking distance of a light rail station.
If only FasTracks were the first time voters had been sold a false bill of goods. But again and again, Caldara has been proven right in his opposition of multi-million dollar campaigns devoted to raising Colorado taxes by billions. Take 2000′s Amendment 23. That year, backers-including the always affluent Colorado Education Association, inundated voter mailboxes with glossy full-color propaganda proclaiming that this constitutional amendment would save Colorado schools from certain fiscal demise-all without ever jeopardizing the state’s other top fiscal priorities, including transportation, health care, higher education, and prisons. The measure was the pride and joy of current state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, benefiting from a Denver Post endorsement, and the adoration of top University of Colorado economists. In reality, the measure-which mandated annual spending increases for education without consideration of incoming tax revenue-has devastated the state budget by forcing cuts to our college campuses, our jails, and our roads. While CU leaders once hailed its passage, they are now counting pennies on a campus that faces millions in budget shortfalls.
When it turned out that Amendment 23 funded schools at the expense of sound fiscal policy and that our students weren’t any better off as a result, the unions and their allies once again told taxpayers that schools needed more of our money. In 2005, they spent over $10 million to successfully convince just over 50 percent of voters to support Referendum C, another constitutional amendment that has taken nearly $6 billion from taxpayers and yet, our government’s appetite for our hard earned dollars only grows stronger.
In each of these campaigns, Caldara and his grassroots allies have been outspent by millions. We’ve had our perspective largely shut out of the newsroom, and we’ve been mocked by editorial writers. In a political environment where out-of-state unions were dumping millions into campaign coffers and bussing in paid “volunteers,” it appeared we couldn’t catch a break.
But in 2009, the tide is turning.
Over the last several months, exasperated small business owners and frustrated taxpayers have, by the thousands, taken to the steps of the state Capitol in Denver to protest government waste and endless tax increases. And they keep coming back. While liberal pundits have turned to cable news channels to mock such events as “Astroturf” manifestations of deep-pocketed capitalist conspirators, such spin just isn’t going to work this time. At a Denver protest held Saturday as part of a national movement that drew hundreds of thousands of Americans out to public squares to similarly demonstrate their displeasure with America’s ever-growing, out-of-control deficit spending, Independence Institute organizers sold out of 600 flags in just three hours. Thousands of people stood in the rain waiving their homemade placards.
And to think, three years ago, Caldara would have been lucky to get 50 people to show up. On a sunny day that is.
Times, they are a changing.
Now, you can argue that I’m just writing this to serve the interests of my organization. But if you saw my paycheck, you’d know that Caldara doesn’t pay me enough to buy my devotion. Like everyone in our humble little organization, we’re committed to fighting for the little guy because it’s the right thing to do. Unlike the government contractors or the public officials ranking in seven-figure deals as a result of the tax increases discussed above, not a single one of us is getting rich off this deal. We aren’t in bed with corporations, as is sometimes alleged, (though Caldara often proclaims he wishes we were; we could definitely use the money) and we aren’t just trying to protect our fictitious seven-figure nest eggs.
It can be exhausting entering every election cycle knowing you will be outspent by those who have permanent access to the public microphone and taxpayer pockets. But as America now faces a debt so enormous that it threatens the livelihood of workers who won’t be born for another fifty years, we have a choice. We can finally hold our government accountable or we can sink along with it. In 2009, David has found his microphone and this time Goliath has no choice but to listen.
This originally appeared in the Denver Post’s Politics West blog, September 18th, 2009.
Jessica Peck Corry (Jessica@i2i.org) serves as director of the Independence Institute’s Campus Accountability Project.