Imagine a better legislature

While others play the personality game of who succeeds Bill Ritter, let’s talk policy. Imagine Colorado making itself so attractive to employers that we lead all 50 states in creating new jobs, instead of lagging in 20th place as we did in the decade past (our second-worst showing since 1890). Imagine Colorado becoming a mecca for affordable health care by letting insurers from across the country compete on price and quality in our state marketplace. Imagine forging out as the nation’s futuristic energy leader, the state that builds safe nuclear plants for clean electricity powering homes, businesses, and vehicles. Imagine our schools putting kids’ best interests ahead of union demands with the most charter-friendly policies in America, slashing red tape to empower learning performance. Imagine our university system paying students a 25% dividend on their time and tuition by innovating the three-year college degree.

Imagine a legislature so tough-minded that it would solicit private investors for Colorado’s transportation infrastructure, Indiana-style; clean up the PERA retirement system’s governance to exclude self-serving insiders; impeach the state’s chief justice for rewriting our constitution; and launch an all-out investigation of radical Islam’s influence here.

And imagine a state government so honest that it no longer grabs a 15-month, zero-interest loan from your paycheck in the form of tax withholding. Rather you keep your own money for your own use until the revenue deadline in April each year.

Such imagineering, as the Disney people call it, is great for mind expansion. But don’t expect any of these visions to be realized in legislation when the Colorado General Assembly convenes this week. Majority Democrats, led by House Speaker Terrance Carroll and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, envision our future differently – and for now, citizens have put them in charge.

For now. The ruling party’s legislative work from January to May is their final exam. In November the voters will file a report card on every House member and half the Senate. Some of us hope all the Democrats flunk. To hasten that, Republicans should use the 2010 session to prove that “out of power” does not mean out of ideas.

Snow may be scarce in the mountains, but at the Capitol a blizzard of bills is flying. During these 120 days nearly a thousand proposals will surface. Some will tackle the budget deficit. Others will push hot buttons, from legal pot to illegal aliens. We’ll hear about such bedroom questions as the gun in the nightstand or who shares a pillow. So will they also find time to debate the big-picture policy issues?

Ten are imagined on my list above. GOP legislators, outnumbered in both chambers, can’t pass these good ideas into law. They can't even get many of them to a floor vote where Dems are put on record. But they can certainly propose them as bills, publicize and advocate for them, laying down a marker for the upcoming campaign.

Rep. Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial) is doing just that with his proposal to end mandatory withholding of state income tax, a transparency move to highlight the ever-growing cost of government. “When a taxpayer has to sit down and write a check,” says Swalm, “it wonderfully focuses the mind.”

Businesses, for that matter, shouldn’t pay income tax at all – since they merely pass it along to consumers or squeeze it out of employee payrolls. Spurring an employment boom by axing that tax was one of my recommendations to gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis in a column last month. His legislative allies should call the Dems’ bluff on job creation with a bill.

By helping Coloradans imagine a better legislature in 2010, Republicans can help themselves back to the majority in 2011. “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,” sang that old political balladeer, Goethe.