Monday, December 15, 2008

I want more for my money

Spending priorities may be different, but most people do not want to pay for anything, in the private or the public sector, unless they are getting their moneys worth. This includes everything from Open Space to paper towels. Why do you think the stores are a mob scene on the day after Christmas when everything is on sale? The average American consumer wants to get their moneys worth and would prefer a deal.

The successful businesses in the private sector understand this concept. If a local fast food place offered the exact same sandwich as its competitor across the street for two dollars more it would soon be out of business. The consumer would spend money at the business that offers the same sandwich for less money.

The public sector has a monopoly on some services that the private sector does not provide like road improvements, law enforcement, public safety and national defense. Historically, monopolies have been inefficient and hurt the consumer. This is one of the reasons the Federal government regulates monopolies in the private sector. On the Federal level, I believe we would have bi-partisan agreement that the Federal government has not become more efficient as our taxes have increased. So why should we start down that road of paying more taxes to the Eagle County government? Are we sure that the County government is using the tax dollars they already get as efficiently as possible, like private business?

If the County insists on keeping all that extra property tax money, we need to be convinced that we are getting our moneys worth from the tax dollars that are already being spent.

Does the County government use our tax dollars efficiently when it competes with the private sector, instead of partnering with local businesses? Does government cheat enterprising small businesses when it takes on services that belong in the private sector? One great example of this is the many parents who provide quality child care in their home, so they can supplement their income and spend more time with their own children. Government run child care hurts these businesses when it starts a competing child care center.

Another example is all the County and Town tax dollars that have been spent on economic development initiatives. Why not support the local Chambers of Commerce, but let the Chambers, not the County take the lead? The Chambers are the experts in this area, because they interface with the business community every day. I am sure they know how to proceed without spending tax dollars on new logos, endless studies and a make-over.

Its time to look more closely at what we are paying for with tax dollars that should be done in the private sector. The competitive environment of the private sector forces businesses to be more efficient. When a private sector business provides services the business pays taxes that fund necessary government services - like building better roads to improve traffic flow.

When the public sector takes business away from the private sector, it hurts the community twice. First, tax dollars are taken away from other higher priority items like public safety and roads. Second, it hurts small businesses that are providing these services, and they pay less in taxes as their revenue declines.

Government monopolies are never more efficient than the private sector, no matter if the business is for-profit or non-profit. Personally I would rather give more money from my pocket to local charitable non-profits, the local Chamber and other local business than to the County government. These organizations operate on small budgets and use my money wisely.

I am not blindly supporting the lowering of taxes; I just want to get my moneys worth from the taxes I am already paying to Eagle County, before they start taking more out of my pocket.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eagle County Seniors

Five days after the election one of the Minturn seniors passed away in the nursing center in Carbondale. I visited her in Carbondale when I was on my way to the Roaring Fork Valley to campaign. The facility was nice, clean and she was treated well by the staff. But she missed her friends and family. And they missed her.

Lottie lived in Minturn for most of her life. Her daughter cared for her as long as possible, but her daughter had to work full time. After Lottie’s last trip to the hospital, she could not be left home alone. She had to go to Carbondale because she needed more care than we provide for our seniors in Eagle County.

Lottie’s friends and family made the 140-mile round trip drive to visit her in Carbondale as often as possible. If they could have made a 55-mile round trip to Eagle to visit her they would have visited more often. Lottie is just one of many seniors who have not been able to live out her final days in our community and as a community we are worse because of that. Before the rest of us moved here to play, they were ranching, working in the mines and working for the railroad. They built the towns where we live and play.

Every two years when there is a county commissioner election, the candidates talk about expanding senior care in Eagle County. The people who have helped make our community great should have an opportunity to live out their final days in our community. To be a complete community we need facilities and services that will keep our aging family members and friends close us.

I ask you to join me in keeping this issue on the table for the Board of County Commissioners. Urge them to facilitate a solution by bringing seniors, senior care-givers, health-care providers, hospitals, non-profit foundations, developers, land owners and other people who are passionate about this issue to the table.

Yes, I have a soft spot in my heart for seniors, but I am not the only one. During my campaign I found that people of all ages believe this is an important issue. Two years from now, I hope this is not an election issue.

I hope we will make significant progress in solving this problem before any more of our seniors have to leave our community. Don’t do it for votes. Do it because it is the right thing to do. Do it for Lottie.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Smear campaigns serve no one

Super Tuesday is behind us and the buzzword this year is change. But one part of the political process that has not changed is smear campaigning and mudslinging.

Smear campaigns are neither new nor limited to one political party. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and their respective parties waged a famous mud-slinging campaign in the 1800 presidential race.

Thomas Jeffersons opponents called him a drunkard and atheist and stated that murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced if Jefferson were to become President. Jeffersons supporters countered by accusing Adams of having two mistresses, which Adams flatly denied.

Another famous example was the 1828 presidential election, after which Andrew Jackson blamed John Quincy Adams for Rachel Jacksons untimely death because of a marital scandal brought up in that election.

Dont misunderstand me: I think it is OK to point out the differences in policies and issues between candidates. If a candidate has accepted contributions from a special-interest group like the tobacco lobby, pointing that out is useful to the voter making a decision  so long as it is true. Increased knowledge about the candidates stance on issues helps the voter make an informed decision. And there is nothing wrong with holding candidates accountable for past voting records. But the name calling and twisting of the truth has to stop.

Smear campaigns take the form of unverifiable rumors and are often distortions, half-truths or even outright lies. They can also be differentiated from information-oriented campaigns by their tendency to dwell on the remote past and on issues not directly related to the candidate or relevant to the current election.
Sometimes this backfires when candidates bring out stale, tired charges about their opponent that have been aired in previous campaigns. Dredging up the remote past does not set well with many Americans.

Saying someone is ugly or that a candidates son had a DUI a couple of years ago  and using that to imply there is a drinking problem in the family  now THAT is a smear campaign. It benefits nobody, usually hurts someone and is an insult to the political process. The real problem with smear campaigns is they divert attention away from the real issues of the election. The other problem is that qualified people may be reluctant to run for political office in this era of character assassination by innuendos and half-truths.

Some people are passionate about their politics in our country and in our county. It is actually refreshing to see people from all political perspectives be passionate about our joint future, instead of apathetic. The best solutions for our future will come from healthy debates between diverse groups of citizens. There is a big difference between a smear campaign and one that uses facts to point out the differences between two sides of an issue. If there were not differences, why would we bother having an election? Pointing out the differences is part of a healthy debate.

Smear campaigns use broad generalizations and irrelevant information to appeal to our emotions and discourage reasonable discussion. Why do Americans pay attention to smear ads? Its for the same reason they rubberneck at the scene of an accident. These ads appeal to some basic emotions. Unfortunately, so long as we allow these emotional campaigns to influence our vote, they will not go away.

Lets try and make our points about the issues without name-calling, attacking candidates families, friends or pointing out that their great grandmothers hairdresser may have been the sixth cousin of someone who once owned slaves. It makes an interesting soap opera, but it does not make our county or our country a better place.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

New Housing Guidelines

In response to Eagle Countys high housing prices, new housing guidelines have been introduced that will require developers to set aside a percentage of the units of each new development for affordable housing. The inclusionary zoning component of these guidelines will effectively drive up the housing prices in Eagle County.
Inclusionary zoning can actually drive prices higher by discouraging builders from building new homes and forcing them to charge higher prices from most of the ones they do build. In a recent publication, Housing Supply and Affordability: Do Affordable Mandates Work? Two California economists estimate that inclusionary zoning in the San Francisco Bay Area has increased the average cost of new homes by $22,000 to $44,000.
Here is an example of how inclusionary zoning works. The inclusionary zoning requirement mandates that developers sell 30 percent of new homes for less than market value. To make up the difference, the developer will increase the price of the other 70 percent of houses in the development. The higher price affects the price and the assessed value of all nearby homes, resulting in increased property taxes to the existing homeowners. The property tax increase is in turn passed on to the renters who are trying to save for a down payment and they have to wait longer to get into the housing market.
Unnecessary building and zoning regulations often add to the cost of housing by preventing the use of innovative building and land development techniques. Cost-effective regulations should streamline the land-use regulatory process so as to minimize the time required to get permits to build new housing. One of the effects of many of these rules is to delay the amount of time it takes to get a permit to subdivide or build. This increases the risk faced by the homebuilder and the cost of borrowing money for the project. That cost is also added on to the price of the house.
The proposed Housing Guidelines are overly complicated and impractical. The cost of these guidelines will not be passed on to the developer, but they will be passed on to all of us through increased property taxes and rents as our assessments continue to climb. Anything that drives up the cost of new homes also leads to an increase in the price of existing homes. While some counties require inclusionary housing, many others offer expedited permits, reduced fees, zoning variances or other incentives for developers who voluntarily build affordable housing.
The increased density that is encouraged in these guidelines will have other negative side effects. The increased density will cause more crowding in our schools, increased traffic congestion, and a further burden to our public safety officers and overcrowded Justice Center. Some areas of our community, in particular neighborhoods in Edwards, are already outgrowing their infrastructure and it is unfair to force increased density upon these communities. The other negative effect is that one of our major industries, construction, will slow down and people may lose their jobs. Many of us are affected directly and indirectly by new home construction. Plumbers, framers, electricians and many others along with their families will be affected if the construction business slows down. We should all be very concerned about the path that the current commissioners have chosen.
A true affordable housing program for Eagle County will require drastic action. It will require less government intrusion and more creative thinking. Home builders, businesses and local officials should work together to overcome cost-adding regulations that will drive up the cost of living for all of us. Eagle County should be a partner with the community to encourage common sense free enterprise solutions that include infrastructure development that compliments increased density.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Colorado caucus: grassroots politics at its best

There is a lot of information on the Internet about how to go to your caucus meeting
Feb. 5.

The caucus is where the nominating process starts for each individual party. It is the first step in the grassroots partisan political process. Caucuses are made of neighborhood precincts. Eagle County is divided into 30 precincts. The Secretary of States Web site has a tool for researching local precincts at

So why should you go to your caucus meeting? Dont we all have enough on our plates? You might think that primaries would be much simpler and less time-consuming, but through the caucus system you can directly influence who is on the ballot to represent your party in November. It is grassroots politics at its best. If you are frustrated with status quo politics, the caucus is where you can begin to influence the future. If there are issues in your party you would like to support or candidates you want to support, it starts at the caucus level. You must attend your precinct caucus if you want to support your candidate by being a delegate for the county assembly, state or national conventions.

At the caucus meeting, interested people gather in their precincts to discuss what the party platform should look like and to elect people to the county partys central committee. They also elect delegates to the county assemblies in the spring. At the county assembly, candidates are chosen for county offices and delegates are chosen to go to the state convention to select party candidates for state offices.

In past years, Colorado voters have voted for president in a primary election in August. The candidate choice for both parties was pretty well decided before Coloradans had a chance to vote, due to the timing of our primary. This year we are part of Super Tuesday and our votes at the caucuses will have more influence on the national level than they have in the past. Dont miss an opportunity to be part of this historic event in Colorado.

Any ordinary caucus participant who can articulate his or her candidates strengths can have extraordinary influence in these gatherings. If you think your candidate is great, go to your caucus and tell your neighbors why they should support him or her  not everyone at the caucus will have made their decision before they get there. And remember the people who take time to caucus usually take time to vote in the general election.

Caucuses are people powered. The caucuses are run by volunteers who share similar values. If you are new to the caucus process, there will be plenty of people to help you at the gatherings of both parties. The party leadership basically gets to choose delegates to the national convention in a primary system. The caucus system allows the delegates to be chosen from the grassroots. The caucus system gives the regular person access to the countrys political system and a direct role in American democracy.

There is a lot of voter apathy in this country and in this county. On the local level, the town of Vail election in November 2007 had a dismal voter turnout of 24 percent of registered voters. If you have not voted because you think no one is listening to you or you cannot influence the election process, go to your caucus. Those willing to participate in person can have their voices heard and be part of giving the power back to the people.