Our state officials’ foremost duty — regardless of office or party — is to serve the people of Colorado and remove obstacles that prevent them from achieving their potential. With the legislative session in Denver officially underway, our state lawmakers now have the chance to do just that, especially in the areas of education, occupational licensing, criminal justice, health insurance, and taxes.
Expanding opportunity starts with a smart education policy that recognizes the uniqueness of each child — that they all have different interests, talents and needs. What works well for one child may not work for another. That’s why it’s important that families have the freedom to choose the educational environment that best suits their child. While families in Colorado can take advantage of the state’s public school open enrollment and charter schools, we have fallen behind in enacting policies that hold the potential to expand educational options for all children regardless of income or ZIP code, such as Education Savings Accounts. Our representatives should support increasing Colorado families’ educational options for their children and oppose top-down proposals to restrict that freedom.
We need labor policies that don’t hinder job seekers. Instead, our current occupational licensing laws impose requirements that make it harder for Coloradans (especially those with lower incomes) to find employment. These rules do little to ensure their stated goal of public safety but do require people to obtain permission from the government just to work in a given profession. According to the Institute for Justice, they cost our state (as of November 2018) more than 57,000 jobs and over $5.6 billion in economic growth. Other states, such as Ohio and Nebraska, have passed significant licensing reform. Our legislators should follow their lead to increase job opportunities.
Colorado should have a criminal justice system that keeps us safe and provides second chances for the vast majority of those who are incarcerated and will eventually return to their communities. Our existing system is failing to achieve those goals while squeezing state finances in the process. Over the past 35 years, policies (such as mandatory minimum sentencing) have led to an explosion in Colorado’s prison population and budget — the latter by almost 1,288%. Last year saw the first prison budget of almost $1 billion.
The formerly incarcerated face enormous challenges reintegrating into society, including occupational licensing laws that make it hard for them to obtain jobs. However, states that remove unnecessary barriers to employment and assist in the transition process provide greater opportunity, reducing overall recidivism. We urge our lawmakers to reform the system so that it better facilitates rehabilitation and re-entry, benefitting the safety of the communities in our state.
We need a health care system that helps more people access better care at a lower cost. Instead, we have a system that has been marked by fraud and waste. Some state officials are pushing for a government-funded health insurance plan that will make things worse, adding new administrative and budgetary burdens to a system that has already seen two Medicaid expansions going back to 2009. More government control will mean higher costs and lower quality care for Coloradans. We call on the state legislature to reject the government takeover of health care in our state.
Coloradans should also be able to keep more of their hard-earned money. Thankfully, by limiting government spending, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is helping to do just that, fueling economic growth. While special interest groups and politicians have repeatedly tried to undermine TABOR so they can raise taxes, voters spoke clearly last November, overwhelmingly rejecting a repeal of its spending caps. Now TABOR’s opponents are calling for a graduated income tax. Our legislators should respect the will of the people and defend TABOR so Colorado can continue its record of economic growth.
We believe that these recommendations — expanding freedom of choice in education and health care, reforming our licensing and criminal justice systems, and lowering taxes — will help open doors for all Coloradans. The agenda is clear — it’s now up to our representatives to act.
Jesse Mallory is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Colorado.