Unions and Pushing for a Better Future

April 27, 2009

I went to my first union rally event on Saturday, April 25th. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 68 hosted Colorado Senator Michael Bennet to discuss the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that is making its way through the U.S. Congress.

I was very impressed to see not just several unions, such as the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and IFCW, represented, but also hundreds of individuals. The unions’ goal was to encourage Sen. Bennet to take a stand on the EFCA.

Despite the Senator’s continued abstinence from taking a stance, the event appeared to be a great success. For about 15 minutes during the event, attendees were encouraged to write letters to Sen. Bennet and Sen. Udall to encourage their support of the EFCA. Hundreds of letters must have been written in just minutes. It was remarkable. (Think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.)

On a personal level, my eyes were opened to the real use and purpose of unions. I saw hundreds of people who are working for their families and are concerned for their ability to put food on their tables, put roofs over their families, put clothes on their children, enable their children to obtain an education, and generally maintain a quality standard of living.

Sen. Bennet expressed concerns that the EFCA is still needs to be improved, and that it does not address and correct all of the concerns of unions and business interests. Unfortunately, the Senator is using the goal of perfection as a scapegoat for not taking a stand. Each time elected officials are scared of offending someone, they claim they are waiting for a perfect solution.

Perfect solutions, especially in government, are nearly impossible to create. With so many stakeholders and so many different interests, elected officials can only weigh the interests and fight for the most beneficial solution for the most people (along the lines of the greater good idea/cliché).

Unions represent hard-working, middle-class Americans, and they deserve an opportunity to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed.

I was inspired by the attendees’ sincerity, openness, and commitment, and I’m looking forward to being able to support Colorado’s hard-working families.


Cell Phone Ban: Well-intentioned, But Misguided

April 23, 2009

When I read about Colorado’s proposed ban on talking on cell phones while driving, HB09-1094, I was firmly against it. Such a ban is one more step government is taking into controlling our personal choices. As is commonly mentioned, there are numerous other actions that can distract a driver that are not subject to a ban. But, cell-phones are singled out. Flipping through a book of 200 CDs while driving is probably just as distracting and dangerous (although, maybe I was the only one who did that) and shuffling an I-pod is just as bad.

That was all before I almost got hit by a car being driven by a young woman who was talking on her cell phone. I was crossing the park street coming in off of 13th and I saw the car barreling down. I figured she’d look up and stop, but she barely slowed down. When she noticed me, she removed her other hand from the steering wheel and gave me the courtesy wave. So, she was zooming into the park with no hands on the wheel.

After recovering from my momentary change of heart, I’ve realized the ban is not just misguided, but would also be insufficient, discriminatory, and a financial drain. The ban would only affect people under 18 years old and would still allow hands-free communication- speaker phones, mics, headsets, etc.

The problem with cell phones does not come from holding the phone. People frequently drive with one-hand on the wheel. The problem comes from talking to someone who is not present and the driver’s focus shifting from the car to the person on the other line of the phone. I’m not sure why, but talking on a phone seems to be more distracting than talking to another person in the car. We would never consider banning talking, right? I hope not, but banning cell phones brings us to the edge of that slippery slope.

The ban also disproportionately affects young adults. HB09-1094 would impose an outright ban on people under the age of 18 while people over 18 could use hands-free devices while driving. This is one more example of the discrimination against youth. If people over 18 stop getting into accidents while talking on their cell phones, then such a discrepancy may be reasonable.

At least the ban also prohibits sending text messages while driving.

Finally, the ban includes a $50 fine for infractions. Is that really worth the costs of enforcement? The overall goal is certainly public safety. But, will the ban really be enforced? The costs for the resources to enforce the ban are likely to exceed the revenue generated from $50 fines. But, the fiscal note for the bill does not make any reference to the costs of state patrol officers and local law enforcement, so my cost predictions are purely speculative.

As well-intentioned as the ban may be, the government is rarely successful at controlling personal behavior and really shouldn’t even be in that line of work.

The bill has passed the Colorado House and now moves to the Senate.


Colorado’s Budget – Cuts, Raids, and Band-aids, but no Solutions

April 10, 2009

The Colorado legislature introduced the proposed state budget, SB09-259, the long bill, on Monday, April 6th. The bill includes budget cuts across the board, but the largest impact is on the state’s funding of higher education.

Colorado already ranks 49th in the nation on higher education spending, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. On top of that, the long bill proposes to cut $300 million from state higher education funding, further deflating a sinking system.

Higher education is the biggest, but by no means the only, function of state government to be a victim of the state’s budget crisis. The only solution, besides cutting funding and raising vehicle registration fees, that the legislature has proposed is to raid the surplus funds of a privately run workers’ compensation fund, Pinnacol Assurance.

Through SB09-273 the legislature has proposed taking (that’s a soft way of saying raiding or stealing) $500,000,000 from Pinnacol’s surplus funds. The bill, if it passes, will require Pinnacol to transfer the money to the state treasurer by September 1, 2009.

The legislature is going even further with SB09-281, following the federal government’s example, and attempting to remove private control of the fund. The bill would eliminate the authority of Pinnacol’s executives and board of directors and transfer that authority to the state. Pinnacol’s response is available at http://www.pinnacol.com/2009-legislation.

The only rationale behind this raid is that Pinnacol has money and the state doesn’t. The state is going after a successful privately run organization and penalizing it for doing what the state has failed to do- maintain a rainy-day fund to deal with economic catastrophes. The state is removing control from people who have proven success and giving control to the people who have guided Colorado into this budget emergency.

It would be easy to pass this off as the Democrats’ effort to expand government and force their hand on private enterprise. But, it’s much more troubling than mere partisan politics. These bills would reward the short-sightedness of Colorado’s past and present elected officials.

Visit Project Vote Smart to find contact information for Colorado public officials to urge them to support the rights of private business and to encourage the legislature to pursue permanent solutions that will promote efficient, cost-effective government.