Open it up, urge Nikkel & Kopp

Editor: Rare is the legislation that goes from stalled to unstoppable under Colorado's gold dome, and rare is the legislator who rides that kind of cyclone in her first month on the job. But such is the case with freshman state Rep. B.J. Nikkel and her transparency bill. Taking office on a vacancy appointment after the 2009 session had already started, Nikkel picked up an open-government proposal that fellow Republican Don Marostica had recently shelved, and quickly assembled a potent coalition for its passage -- after more than a year of inaction by the executive branch on this issue. Here's her account, co-authored with Senate sponsor Mike Kopp.

Bipartisan Calls for Transparency in State Government By Rep. B.J. Nikkel (R-Larimer Co.) and Sen. Mike Kopp (R-Jefferson Co.)

Making government transparent is a popular issue in the Colorado legislature this year, as we’ve had several attempts to provide taxpayers with online access to Colorado’s various governments spending habits.

Our bill, House Bill 1288, places Colorado on the cutting edge of transparency in state government, and if enacted, we will join over a dozen states nationwide that have already put state expenditures and revenues online.

Last week, HB 1288 – The Colorado Taxpayer Transparency Act, passed through House Finance Committee unanimously. Two weeks prior to that, a broad coalition of 38 Democrats and Republicans came together on the House floor in unison to co-sponsor our legislation upon its introduction.

The Colorado Taxpayer Transparency Act is similar to other bills that have passed in several states, including Missouri, Kansas and Texas, as well as in the United States Senate. The U.S. Senate version of transparency was sponsored by then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, and Sen. Tom Colburn, R-Oklahoma.

Just as transparency has brought together members of both parties in the U.S. Senate, a broad coalition of Democrats and Republicans have also come together at the State Capitol in support of making transparency part of state law.

Gov. Bill Ritter, D-Colorado, has even announced plans to sign an executive order, mandating that all government spending be made available electronically. Although we applaud the governor for his willingness to put the state’s spending online, an executive order does not go far enough because it is not a law and can be swept away by the stroke of a pen.

Any new governor can simply rescind Gov. Ritter’s executive order. It’s very important for taxpayers to know that transparency in state government is not fleeting – it must be made permanent by through an act of state law. In addition, other states like Missouri that have implemented it through executive order have come back and made it permanent by putting it into law.

We are currently working with the governor’s office and hope that he will join this bipartisan group of Republican and Democrat lawmakers in supporting this important legislation in making transparency permanent for Colorado taxpayers.

Under current law, the burden-of-proof is on the taxpayer. If you want information on state spending you have to file a Colorado Open Records Act request and be willing to wait, spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on staff research and printing fees, and then wonder if you’ve truly received all the relevant information.

Our legislation shifts this burden-of-proof to the state government by making the process for quickly reviewing how the state is using your money, just a mouse-click away.

Putting the states expenditures and revenues online through statute, is a first step toward greater accountability. Under HB 1288, Colorado citizens will have the tool they’ve asked for to help us identify potential waste, and in some cases, fraud and abuse.

The state’s expenditures and revenues should be transparent, accessible, and free—and we need to keep the mantra of the taxpayers in mind which says, “if you can’t defend it, don’t spend it.”

Porkulus bill mocked transparency

1175 pages. That’s the length of the most massive-spending, government-expansive, pork-laden piece of legislation in U.S. history. And no one read it.

The “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” as it is so, ahem, inaptly called, was dispatched in its final, conference committee form at 12:00 AM on Friday the 13th.

Neither chamber was presented with a PDF copy of the bill, so the staffers, as video of a meeting in Senator Jim DeMint’s office reveals, had to go through it page-by-page the old fashioned way—by hand. Nearly 1200 pages. Normally they can search through the bill on the computer with greater ease, but the leadership would not allow it.

Furthermore, neither the Senate nor the House leadership permitted much time at all for debate and discussion on the bill in its final form, despite the fact that Republicans were essentially shut out of the conference committee process. Nor was the bill allowed to be read on the House and Senate floors.

And yet the bill was passed by the House after 2:00 PM, and the Senate followed suit later in the evening.

The public has a right to expect that, at the very least, the staffers in Congress have ample opportunity and means to read and review legislation before a vote and that their elected representatives have sufficient time to fully hash out and debate a bill before it becomes law. However, prior to the passing of the act, virtually no one got through it. And it wasn’t because they didn’t want to. With just 14 hours in the House, for instance, and no PDF copy, how could they?

Parts of the bill were even edited by hand. One line was crossed out, the number increased from $250 million to $500 million by hand. Such was the case with many portions of the bill.

Pork was thrown in casually, such as $1.4 billion tucked in for science. What kind of science? Nothing particular. Just science. So much for President Obama’s claim that the bill wasn’t stuffed with pork.

Welfare reform, the greatest success of the Clinton years, was subtly undone, as politicians in the backroom inserted provisions that would encourage states to keep the unemployed on the welfare rolls instead of take them off.

Here we have the single biggest spending bill in U.S. history, as well as the most massive solitary piece of legislation in U.S. history. Pork was unceremoniously injected. Staffers had no time to get through it all. It was forbidden to be read on the House and Senate floors. Debate and discussion were severely limited before the votes took place. Republicans were essentially shut out of the conference committee process.

The president claims to have tried to reach out to Republicans. After all, he did meet with them several times, didn’t he?

Yet when he met with House Republican leaders, he told them not to listen to Rush Limbaugh because, in doing so, “you can’t get things done.” In other words, he was telling them not to listen to Rush not because he’s a jerk, but because Limbaugh represents the antithesis of Obama’s left-wing agenda, one of the most powerful voices of opposition against Obama’s presidency. We can’t have that, now, can we?

And the Republicans will never forget Obama’s argument on taxes. “I won,” he said. True bipartisanship.

In his speech rallying the troops at the House Democratic Caucus retreat on the 6th, Obama labeled contentions against the stimulus bill “old,” “tired,” “worn-out” and “phony.” Clearly that’s the kind of bipartisan rhetoric that will get things done in Washington. That’s a new kind of politics right there, a “fresh” way to reach out across the aisle.

Sarcasm, of course. Does that sound like hope and change to you?

Obama promised on the campaign trail that a waiting period would pass during which all legislation is online for the public to view before it’s passed, yet he didn’t even attempt to hold to that pledge.

Call me crazy, but the jive I’m getting is that the Democratic Congress and Obama administration are acting out the “same old, petty politics” that the President decried in his campaign.

The bill has been passed by Congress and signed by the President. We needn't beat this drum anymore, pound something that is now law, but the way this bill was pushed through Congress less than 24 hours after its release tells us exactly what we need to know about and what we can expect from the next two to four years of Democrat dominance. As far as this observer is concerned, it puts a nail into the "openness" and "transparency" promised by the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress.

And we’re not even a full month into his presidency yet.

Transparency bills gain momentum

Action from 2/22 Radio: The Colorado legislation we discussed with Amy Oliver is SB-57 for web posting of all financial transactions by school districts, and HB-1288 for web posting of all financial transactions by state government. For status of those bills in the legislative process, full text of both proposals, and committee members who will initially decide them, go to

For the Colorado transparency website maintained by Amy Oliver and her Independence Institute colleagues, go to