A Local Business Database and App – Good Intentions, but Off the Mark

March 4, 2012

Colorado Senator Morgan Carroll introduced legislation to create a business database.  The legislation would direct the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) to create the database.   Local businesses would voluntarily be able to register, provide information, and a pay a fee each year.  The bill also requires OEDIT to create a mobile app for accessing the data.

Supporting local businesses and encouraging economic development are admirable, necessary goals.  Sen. Carroll deserves support for pushing those efforts.  But, the methods to achieve those goals in this legislation have significant shortcomings.

First, the state already has this information.  The Department of Revenue, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Secretary of State’s office, already collect most of this data and could publish it online. 

Second, the private sector is already doing this (e.g., Yelp and Google Places).

Third, charging businesses to register and provide duplicative information is unfair and unnecessary.

Fourth, and finally, if the agencies just made the data available via an API or even by download from their websites, the private sector could make use of the data with less effort and little cost to government.

A more effective approach would be to direct state agencies to make their data available. For example, check out Data.Oregon.Gov.  At no additional charge, reporting requirement, or effort to businesses, Oregon has made business information available to the public and to the private sector.  Oregon’s data platform makes all of the things Sen. Carroll is promoting possible without extra costs.

Colorado’s proposal will limit innovation by restricting the data to a state agency that does not have the expertise or resources to create and maintain apps and other economic tools.  David Eaves, an open government expert, recently wrote about the economic potential of open data and helped plainly describe the benefits of government releasing more data to the public.

There are experts who can do this sort of thing.  Government doesn’t have to.  Government just needs to provide the tools and resources for the private sector and individuals to do what they need to do.


Creative Budgeting – Home Redistribution

January 26, 2010

The Colorado legislature introduced a series of tax credit reductions with the goal of saving the state money.  Eliminating the tax credits will save the state money, but the loss of tax credits will cause prices to increase, which means people will have to pay more, which means they will either spend or save less or both.

I commend the legislature for pursuing options, but we, as a state, still need to look for options that create revenue without hurting individuals.  Specifically, we need solutions for education funding.  K-12 education funding in Colorado is already near the lowest in the country according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  Those schools are funded largely through property tax revenue, and the state doesn’t have enough of it. 

A possibility that could be looked into is for the state to claim foreclosed homes by eminent domain, rent or give those homes to state citizens, and create jobs through an agency responsible for overseeing the program, repairing, and maintaining the homes.

Redistributing foreclosed homes would:

  • Increase state revenue through rental income or property tax;
  • Create jobs in a state oversight agency;
  • Create more jobs through a state home repair and maintenance service; and
  • Discourage banks from foreclosing on homes.

Yes, of course, there are downsides.  The home redistribution program would be big government at its biggest, but that, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  And, the program would require some state constitution amendments.  Homeowners who are meeting their responsibility by making mortgage payments are sort of left out to dry.  I’m sorry, but this is for the greater public good.  Without help, those people won’t have schools to send their kids to; at least they won’t have very good schools. 

I’m only half joking.  It’s laughable until you think about it.


Speed Pass

January 6, 2010

The state of Colorado has been facing an ever expanding budget shortfall, and there is little recovery in sight.  State agencies have avoided filling job vacancies and have made additional staff cuts.  Some state services and programs have been decreased or even eliminated. 

The state has raised fees and withheld tax breaks.  But, revenue is not coming in.  Colorado has faired better than most states, but the recession has had a substantial impact.  People are out of work and spending less, so tax revenue is growing scarce.

Colorado needs innovative ideas to raise revenue, so that the state can continue to provide the services the people need. 

One new idea from left-field I’ve had is to create a Colorado speed pass for drivers.  Drivers would be able to buy a monthly pass that would allow them to drive over the speed limit on state and interstate highways. 

The speed pass would mechanically operate similarly to a toll pass.  Drivers would put a transmitter in their car that would send a signal to a receiver in police and highway patrol cars.  Drivers could renew their speed pass online each month.

Of course, speed limits are set to help ensure drivers’ safety, so precautions will be necessary.  In order to qualify for the speed pass, a driver would be required to have a valid driver’s license and to be ticket free for six months.

Drivers would still be subject to reckless driving tickets.  Speeding excessively in poor weather conditions, following too closely, excessive weaving, and other reckless tactics would still be causes to be pulled over.

The price for the pass is uncertain, but it could probably go for a couple hundred dollars a month.  The speed pass would create additional revenue, would improve driver satisfaction, and would enable law enforcement to focus on other issues.

The speed pass idea may need some revision and might be pretty far-fetched, but we need to start brainstorming somewhere.

The legislative session starting on January 13, 2010, should be interesting.


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.