Monday, November 23, 2009

Bill Ritter for governor in 2010

Right here, right now, I'm endorsing Bill Ritter for re-election as governor.

The Republicans made me do it.

The news today, according to the banner headline across the front page of the Denver Post, is "United GOP targets Ritter."

And right below that headline the Post encapsulates the Colorado Republican Party's 2010 "Contract for Colorado," which leads off with the promise (I would call it a threat) to "Limit taxes and state spending."

As if the perennially Republican-defended Taxpayers Bill of Rights didn't already prohibitively limit Colorado's business growth and progress.

As if the perennial Republican criticism of Amendment 23, the only bulwark against legislative raids on public-school funding for the state, were not promise enough from their party that the children of Colorado can be ignored in order to uphold the wealth of the establishment.

No, none of that has been enough for Republicans in Colorado.

Now, they want to re-impose a "limited-government, no-government" regime on the state, apparently not satisfied with the deep hole the former Owens administration dug for Colorado through its frivolus spending on inefficient computers, its promotion of an Internet network that failed to deliver on its promises, its complete abrogation of public health programs and higher-education funding, and its total disregard for racial discrimination in state contracting.

That was once Colorado's contract with Republicans.

I, for one, would rather see Democrats in charge of making government mistakes.

At least they err on the side of ordinary people.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Government at work for its people

Budget-strapped Colorado government worked behind the scenes to protect the state's drinking water over the past year, demonstrating why Colorado citizens pay taxes and what kind of valuable regulation they get for their money.

On Wednesday, the state's Department of Public Health and Environment reported it has withdrawn disinfection waivers for 72 public drinking water systems around Colorado in the wake of its investigation of the 2008 Salmonella outbreak in Alamosa. That outbreak claimed one life and sickened an estimated 1,300 of Alamosa's 8,900 residents that spring.

Gov. Bill Ritter can claim the subsequent health department action as a victory for his administration.

But if Ritter faces a "limited-government" Republican opponent come the fall 2010 campaign, the incumbent governor may be reluctant to speak up for his regulators because such government services cost money, and "limited-government" candidates never advocate raising the taxes needed to pay for them.

Yet those are the services Colorado taxpayers expect of its government. Just like they expect affordable in-state tuitition for its college students, mosquito-abatement in West Nile virus season, and sufficient state support for primary and secondary public-school education.

The state's voters elected Ritter in 2006 to make sure Colorado's government apparatus would be used for such purposes, and most of what Ritter has been criticized for by Republican opponents during his first term has been aimed at his efforts to fulfill that broad, generalized 2006 election promise.

You can bet whoever may be Ritter's Republican opponent in 2010 will try to label him as an overspender of what money the state was able to collect during the 18-month economic downturn that has caused drastic revenue shortfalls.

But don't forget that the "limited-government" Owens administration was responsible for the state's not jumping on programs that might have prevented or reduced the many deaths and hundreds of serious illnesses suffered in Colorado as the initial epidemic of West Nile virus swept east to west across the nation earlier this decade.

Regulators are employed by a state to protect its citizens from failures of business and industry that can affect large parts of the population. When regulators don't do their jobs, people often get hurt, and taxpayers don't get what they pay for.

Let's hope Colorado's current budget cutting doesn't set us up for more West Nile or Alamosa-style public-health failures. The health department's withdrawal of disinfection waivers, forcing public water systems to purify their drinking water, represents taxpayer money well spent.

Don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Business needs a Broncos win

Colorado's business community needs a Broncos' win against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

I have learned since arriving in the state in 1988, the morale of Colorado business takes a cue from the success of the Denver Broncos, and I have come to believe that the success of all the state's professional sports teams seems to set a tone for the success of the entire state.

I know that sounds crazy, but give me a listen.

When I was the night city editor of the Denver Post, I would drive to work on Sundays at a time when those lucky enough to attend Broncos games had already found their parking spots at Mile High Stadium, and the rest of the city was already positioned in front of its TV sets.

Central Denver was hushed and quiet in the middle of the day, waiting the kickoff.

After a loss, on Monday's in the middle of the day, the city was almost as quiet and palpably depressed.

Then the Avalanche came to town and promptly won the city's first national professional sports title. The Broncos followed with two consecutive Super Bowl championships (it should have been three, but the Broncs were beaten by Jacksonville in the first year they also should have won the championship, which, with the next two wins, would have made history).

The Rockies made the playoffs early on and two years ago went to the World Series. The Nuggets made the playoffs several times since I have been in Colorado, but never with as strong a team as they have now, one with a realistic opportunity to take an NBA championship.

Yet it's the Broncos that still set the tone, and you could feel that already this year when they surprisingly won six games in a row as Colorado was feeling the first little urges of a national business recovery. Once again, the state was leading the nation and gathering praise for its growing alternative energy industry, school reform and even health-care delivery on the Western Slope.

Then the Broncos lost to Baltimore. Winter had come early. National unemployment hit 10 percent. Stimulus dollars were being reported to have hired way too many people than seemed realistic.

And the Broncos dropped two more, while the Chargers kept winning.

For some reason, the Broncos and other winning sports franchises in Colorado seem to inspire business and political leadership in the state. There's no objective proof for that, but the winning lifts a burden that winter's snow and cold often impose.

Colorado needs the Broncos to beat the Chargers at home to show the state's business and political communities that the team's improvement over the off-season wasn't just a mirage. And that the inklings of economic improvement in Colorado weren't just false positives.

When the state's professional sports teams are winning, Coloradans, their business leaders and their political leaders are energized. And right now, Colorado cannot afford to let its energy and leadership slip.

Business needs a Broncos win on Sunday.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where's the path to stimulus dollars?

On Monday, I ducked my croquet game to attend a presentation on the Auraria campus about "How Your Business Can Benefit from Federal Stimulus Money." I was hoping to see for myself what advice was being given to small business owners by a state official, Maranda Pleau, who has been touring the state to speak on the topic. (Photo: Mark Martinez; Credit:

You might remember that on Aug. 14 I posted a blogspot on the distribution of $87 million from a state/federal capital construction program for San Luis Valley schools, and I connected the funding to Pleau's tour, assuming that her presentation would tell small business owners in the Valley how they might get a piece of that action.

I was wrong, and I was told I was wrong by Pleau's communications manager Myung Oak Kim, who read the blog and told me I should attend one of Pleau's presentations to find out what she was saying in them.

So I did. And frankly, I was disappointed.

Pleau, who is formally called the Director of Small Business and Minority Outreach for the Governor's Economic Recovery Team, told an audience of about 60 people, some of whom were minority business owners or women business owners, that her team's tasks so far had been difficult, especially the "very arduous" process of tracking stimulus dollars. That is one of her missions: to tell the people of Colorado how stimulus dollars are being spent.

The problem with her presentation, however, is that mission seems to be her only mission. She does not offer specific advice, other than recommending business owners check out the recovery team's website,, that might land a small business a grant or a contract to keep they're business going.

In fact, one business owner at the Nov. 9 presentation complained that she had run through all the traps on the website, searched out grants and contracts that might get her new business, but that all the material she searched seemed to suffer a basic "disconnect" from the information she really needed. She needed direct paths to bidding for work, and she wasn't finding them.

Mark Martinez, regional president of Solera National Bank, which has capital available to lend to qualified business borrowers, helped sponsor Pleau's presentation but came away from it as disappointed as I was.
"It's total spin," said Martinez. "All I was told was here's all these millions of dollars and here's how they're being allocated, by category, but there's no discussion as far as ... where those dollars are landing and how those dollars are ending up in the pockets, or potentially in the pockets, of small business or business in general."

"You sit through the presentation, and at the end of the day you're sitting there thinking: I didn't learn anything."

Martinez, who has served on the board of trustees of Metro State College, where Pleau gave her talk, said he knows that education stimulus dollars have been used to "backfill" against budget cuts, a strategy school administrators claim is the only way to protect current programs and jobs.

But the banker asks: "Where's the stimulus in that?"

And he's right. He said he has no clients who have reported to him that they have been able to tap into stimulus dollars, and he said SBA loans cited by Pleau in her talk would have been been made to qualifying businesses despite the stimulus effort. Martinez did acknowledge, however, the federal government has made it easier for banks to make some SBA-guaranteed loans.

Small, $35,000 loans being made available through SBA to small businesses as emergency funding are not profitable to banks and are designed to go to businesses who are poor loan prospects, Martinez said. You can read more about the limited success of that SBA emergency loan-program in today's Denver Post,
Banks across the country have been reluctant to loan money through the program. "We're not a charitable organization," Martinez he added. "We're a financial institution."

But to get back to Pleau's small-business coaching, or lack of it, there are some legitimate reasons for state government to not hold hands with businesses seeking federal money to fund new growth. The press and political critics could perceive the help as favored treatment.

But Pleau's "outreach" efforts need to go beyond talking about where the stimulus money is being spent.

Minority-owned businesses have historically been left out of Colorado's procurement process, and true "outreach" will help small businesses directly connect with state agencies and other organizations distributing stimulus dollars through grants and contracts.

There's no sense in talking to small businesses about $87 million to be spent on school construction work in the San Luis Valley unless small businesses, minority-owned businesses, and women-owned businesses can share a piece of the $87 million pie.

The state, so far, has failed to open up a direct path for small business to such work.