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On Wednesday, the state's Department of Public Health and Environment reported it has withdrawn disinfection waivers for 72 public drinking water systems around Colorado in the wake of its investigation of the 2008 Salmonella outbreak in Alamosa.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.

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