Colorado Editorial Roundup
The Aurora Sentinel, Dec. 15, on collecting sales taxes from online retailers:
Time's up for giving e-commerce a bye on collecting sales taxes, a practice that is increasingly unfair to consumers, taxpayers and business owners.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Colorado the final green light to try and force e-commerce giants like Amazon and others to tell consumers they owe sales taxes on their online purchases and need to pony up.
Years and years ago, state and federal officials agreed to bypass or just look the other way as e-commerce was born and struggling. That was then. Now, hundreds of billions of dollars in purchases each year are made online, and struggling state and local governments are losing out on taxes created by one of the most critical sources of government revenue. Currently, only businesses that have "brick and mortar" operations in a state are required to collect sales taxes for on-line purchases made and delivered to that state. It means something a consumer buys on Amazon is state sales-tax free.
While consumers might think that's a good thing, it's not. It pits businesses against each other unfairly, and most often small businesses are losers. Regardless of whether someone thinks sales taxes are a good or evil way to fund the government, that's the system we have. And bypassing this system means budget troubles for things like roads, schools and more. Colorado alone estimates it loses about $170 million a year in sales-tax revenue.
Previously, the Supreme Court has ruled that states violated commerce provisions by collecting taxes from "stores" that have no brick-and-mortar presence in that state. Given the historical exploitation of the U.S. Constitution Commerce Clause, it's hard to understand how a willing Congress hasn't crafted an acceptable solution.
It's not willing. Yet.
Colorado's law may have passed this level of Constitutional muster, but as more states jump on board with at least a chance to get some of their missing sales-tax revenues, confusion is inevitable. Louisiana, Oklahoma and Vermont have now created similar laws all hinging on how the Colorado case turned out.
It's time to solve this problem permanently, fairly and for every state, not just progressive ones like Colorado.
With annual Internet sales exploding, those days are long gone. Now, it's wrong to give retailers like Amazon an unfair advantage over struggling businesses here in Aurora by allowing them a continued bye on collecting sales taxes.
Congress needs to pass some version of the bipartisan Marketplace Fairness Act, and state lawmakers need to iron out problems that keep Colorado from getting the money it needs and has coming.
While nobody wants to pay taxes, we wouldn't have a state in our country if we didn't, at least not one anyone would want to live in. The expectation of paying sales taxes is there, it's time to create a fairer retail market here and across the country, and it's time for governments to get access to revenue needed to make all of our lives better.
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Dec. 20, on Colorado's future:
President-elect Donald Trump's surprise victory and his cabinet selections have dominated the political landscape since Election Day, but as we draw closer to the start of the Colorado General Assembly's 71st session, we're reminded that a lot more was at stake for Colorado voters than just the presidency.
Gov. Hickenlooper has certified the election results of a medical-aid-in-dying law that passed with 65 percent of the vote. It allows terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to receive self-administered medications to end their lives, provided they meet a host of conditions.
That was one of a total of nine statewide ballot measures -- two legislative referrals and seven initiatives -- to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. Besides the medical-aid-in-dying law, voters agreed to two other propositions (enacting statutes as opposed to amending the Constitution) allowing unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in major party primaries.
Voters rejected constitutional amendments to create a new health care system, raise taxes on tobacco products, remove an exception to slavery prohibition or tinker with possessory interests involving property taxes. Two amendments passed: one raising the minimum wage and the other changing the threshold for passage of constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 55 percent approval.
Amendment 71, known as the "Raise the Bar" initiative, also made it more difficult to get a measure on the ballot. Signatures are now required from 2 percent of registered voters in all 35 state Senate districts.
It's a provision that works similarly to the Electoral College in that it gives rural interests footing in a process that could dominated by urban centers. We supported passage of 71 to reduce constitutional clutter. The initiative process to pass a law, a statute, is still a simple majority, and most of the amendments we've baked into our state Constitution could have sufficed as statutes.
The drawbacks to 71 are that it makes it harder to fix problems that have arisen as a result of existing amendments. It would be tougher to repeal legal marijuana than it was to pass it. Also, statutory changes are easier to roll back, needing just a majority vote of the state Legislature, so there's a potential for undercutting voter intent with propositions that doesn't exist with amendments.
The incidence of citizen initiatives is proportional to legislative action. In other words, a do-nothing Legislature is likely to push voters to take matters into their own hands.
Since Republicans hold a one-vote majority of Senate seats, while Democrats have a 37-28 majority of seats in the state House of Representatives, any proposed state laws will need bipartisan support to be passed.
It will be interesting to see how energy and environmental issues in Colorado are impacted by Trump's policies and federal laws enacted by a Republican-controlled Congress -- especially because the tourist industry is booming and the state has cultivated a strong brand that appeals to lovers of the outdoors.
But the first order of business will be fiscal latitude -- finding a way to boost funding for roads and schools. The Legislature convenes on Jan. 11.
The Denver Post, Dec. 16, on students protesting fossil fuel development:
While it is understandable that some University of Denver students might wish to see their institution shed its fossil-fuel holdings, such a move would be hardly realistic, and we hope the trustees maintain their independence concerning their endowment's portfolio.
There is a teachable moment here, though in truth this kind of debate is getting stale.
As The Denver Post's Jennifer Brown reported this week, DU students, led by New York-based 350.org, have convinced the university to study their request to divest holdings in coal, natural gas and oil companies. The university has assembled a task force. The task force has had seven meetings. Task force members say they feel a moral obligation to study the request, and with urgency.
Winning that kind of traction is what the activists at 350.org get paid to do by their ideological donors, and they've enjoyed even greater success at some universities. In Colorado, for example, Naropa University in Boulder has promised to take such steps.
Naropa is in good company. The likes of Yale and Stanford universities have taken up similar pledges. But so far no other Colorado university has done so. Nor has Harvard, a fact that we hope DU trustees keep in mind as they face this challenge.
Climate change is frightening and worth combating, of course. We've long been in favor of taking reasonable steps toward a greater reliance on energy sources -- like wind and solar -- that don't contribute to a warmer planet.
But as noted by DU's vice chancellor for legal affairs, Paul Chan, the mission of the university is to provide a good education for its students. Presumably, many of them will end up working in fossil-fuel industries or in careers to augment or benefit from them.
One DU student involved in the 350.org effort said at a recent forum that the students' goal isn't to stigmatize fellow students who go on to fossil-fuel careers, but to persuade energy companies to switch to green energy.
That sounds really great, but it's completely unrealistic to think that our state, our nation or other others can immediately stop depending on the plentiful fossil fuels available to provide the power we need to live the lives to which we are accustomed. It would be cruel to poor and hardworking people in our country and impoverished nations beyond our borders to do so.
Here in Colorado, fossil-fuel development plays an important role as a corporate citizen that provides good jobs for many workers while also providing the important bridge fuel that is natural gas: a fuel that inexpensively keeps the lights on while producing far less pollution than coal, for example.
Chan adds that taking 350.org's marching orders would harm DU's ability to serve its students, and constrain its ability to invest in companies "that are also working on meaningful change."
As Brown notes in her report, the oil and gas industry spent $90 billion in recent years on reducing greenhouse emissions
Further, it's also not even clear that such a divestment would have any impact whatsoever on climate change.
We hope trustees defend their investment practices while finding ways to also invest in green energy companies that make it more feasible to wean ourselves from fuels that harm the planet.
The (Longmont) Times-Call, Dec. 17, on killing mountain lions and bears:
Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Wednesday approved a controversial plan to kill mountain lions and bears in the belief those species are reducing the population of mule deer in some areas.
The move came even though wildlife biologists from Colorado State University told them it goes against the wildlife agency's own scientific research and standards for conducting scientific experiments.
The Denver Post reported the scientists sent the agency commissioners a letter last week that said: "We find it surprising that CPW's own research clearly indicates that the most likely limiting factors for mule deer are food limitation, habitat loss and human-induced disturbance -- not predators."
CSU biologists Joel Berger, Kevin Crooks and Barry Noon said deer habitat in the state has been affected by roads, oil and gas drilling and other development that makes it less hospitable to deer.
The plan approved by Colorado Parks and Wildlife will have state wildlife crews use cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares and hunting dogs to immobilize mountain lions and bears, then shoot as many as 15 mountain lions and 25 bears a year in two areas: the Arkansas River Basin near Salida and the Piceance Basin near Rifle.
Targeting a small number of lions and bears in that area is unlikely to have an effect on the overall state population of the animals.
The Denver Post report says Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials estimate the state has around 17,000 bears and 4,500 mountain lions.
The agency says that most of the state is prime mountain lion range and that human-lion encounters have increased as more people have moved into or begun recreating in lion habitat. Mountain lions also follow mule deer, a prime food source for them.
Black bears, on the other hand, get the majority of their food from vegetation and insects, and too often when they're in human habitat, from garbage and bird feeders, although the National Wildlife Federation says they are capable of killing an adult deer for food.
Hunters in the state kill up to 1,364 bears and 467 mountain lions a year, the Post said, "more than in other Western states and twice as many as a decade ago," ranking third, behind Idaho and Montana, for mountain lion kills.
Many questions remain about the decision by the wildlife agency to go forward with the plan.
Agency officials say it's being done to gather information they need to manage deer.
The scientists opposing it say the experiment will not meet scientific standards.
With so many questions surrounding the need for predator control and the way it is proposed to be conducted, Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers should remember that the public, including independent wildlife biologists and groups like Cougar Fund, the Boulder Bear Coalition, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Species Coalition, the Audubon Society, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, will be watching.