Guest Columns

THE WEBBCAST

Who’s bold enough to tackle these ideas?

What’s the plan to deal with the looming shortfalls in the state budget? Surprisingly, the new Governor-elect hasn’t asked for ideas on how to efficiently trim the cost of government.

Nor has the new crop of legislators rushed forward with plans for budget savings, or better government. They claimed to have plenty of ideas while campaigning, but campaign promises never hold much water. The Joint Budget Committee nibbles around the edges, but has proposed nothing truly dramatic.

So I’ll ask — where are the bold ideas? Where are the ideas to be considered for their audacity, that are “unthinkable,” have long-range impact, and give us the ability to truly change the way Colorado’s state government delivers services?

The goals should be to effect change, save money, streamline state agencies and improve customer service. We can reduce unnecessary staff (with the resulting PERA costs), save money by eliminating office expense, space and fleet vehicles, and look at improving customer service. Here’s where I’d start:

• Eliminate at least two state agencies, Local Affairs and Agriculture. No one can really define why we need Local Affairs. If it’s providing support to cities, counties and special districts — let their trade associations, the Municipal League, Colorado Counties and the Special Districts Association, pick up that role. Send the Emergency Management Division to Public Safety, where it belongs. Why do we need a “Housing” division? Let the homebuilders and homeless coalitions do that work. The regulatory functions can be handled by Regulatory Agencies. Assessment appeals, and grants and disbursements, can be handled by Bureaus in Revenue.

Agriculture’s mission is outdated and superfluous. Its regulatory functions (weights and measures) and consumer services can be handled by Reg Agencies. Place its conservation, brand and animal industry functions inside Natural Resources. The State Fair should be cut from the state budget and be managed by a not-for-profit corporation, much like the National Western Stock Show.

• The agriculture marketing functions should be included in a new Commerce and Employment department. Eliminate the “Labor” part of that agency and focus on the “commerce” aspect, serving the business base of the state. “Labor” as a function is nothing more than a sop to the unions, and does nothing to promote job growth. Move its regulatory functions to Reg Agencies, then shift the “Office of Economic Development and International Trade” from the Governor’s Office to the Commerce component.

• Let’s sell the Lottery. That’s right, negotiate with the major national lottery system providers, GTech or Scientific Games. They manage the backbone of the states’ lottery operations, and have a profit motive. Negotiate an annual revenue requirement, and let the experts run and market the games. The state would retain responsibility for administration and integrity of the games. Include in the contract a requirement to merge Colorado’s Lottery with those in Arizona and New Mexico to create a regional game that can benefit residents of all three states.

• Use the Lottery proceeds to support higher ed, with scholarships for Colorado kids attending Colorado universities (like they do in Georgia and South Carolina), or specific reading and math reinforcement in K-12 education. Even if we only do this for 20 years, it would be worth doing. That will necessitate the end of Great Outdoors Colorado, but we should ask — how much open space do we need? The federal government owns 37 percent of the state’s total area, and the state another 5 percent. I’d say we’re well supplied with open land. Let’s use that lottery income to get our next generation a well-rounded education.

Just this past week we’ve heard yet another report about mismanagement of the state’s Veterans homes. They bleed red ink and are not a reassuring example of quality nursing care. Why hasn’t the state allowed experienced private operators to bid to manage the five nursing centers? Why hasn’t anyone raised this option?

Colorado is in a better position than many other states, but reducing the size and scope of government can become an attractive element in bettering its business climate and attracting new business. There’s public sentiment now to amend the high profile of government at all levels.

Bold ideas require strong leadership, and voters had to have some idea that John Hickenlooper could fill that role. There are legislators who claim to have leadership genes as well. If they have a bold streak, now is precisely the time for that trait to appear. We’re all watching.

Pete Webb is a principal in a long-established strategic communications firm. Over the past few legislative sessions, he’s often been dismayed by the cavalier attitude elected representatives display toward their constituents. He’ll be a regular contributor to The Statesman.