Opportunity Squandered

Good news: according to the newest rankings from U.S. News and World Report, Colorado has the best economy in the country. Bad news: Despite this amazing distinction, Colorado ranked #9 overall because we are unable to pull ourselves out of a self-imposed scarcity that squanders our prosperity.

While we welcome highly educated entrepreneurs to our state, we are failing our own children and middle class workers who struggle every day to get by. Handcuffed by ludicrous restrictions on how we can tax ourselves, we aren’t investing our considerable wealth and good fortune back into our communities.

Why are we willing to tolerate crumbling roads, paltry school funding, and increasing inequality? We know well from our history of boom and bust good times can fade. Why are we squandering our considerable resources now?

It’s worth noting with the exception of New Hampshire, a state with an homogeneous population of about 1 million people, every other state in the top 10 devotes a greater percentage of personal income in public investments than Colorado. Look deeper into the rankings and it shows.

When it comes to “opportunity,” Colorado ranks 31st. On “equality,” we hover near the bottom at 45th. Thanks to years of declines in education funding, we rank 41st for high school graduation rates. We know that education is vital to our future success, yet we insist upon pitting the interests of college kids against those of kindergartners.

How can a state that needs tech-savvy workers and thrives on a reputation of innovation accept such dismal metrics?

This week, I testified at our legislature in support of a bill (HB17-1187) that would allow voters to decide if they want to keep more revenues from our humming economy. It’s time to stop letting cynical voices prevent us from investing in vital public programs like schools, transportation, and affordable housing.

Our research at the Bell Policy Center shows cost increases are far outpacing income growth. That means people who used to be able to comfortably afford big expenses like housing, daycare, and health insurance now struggle to make ends meet. These costs are precisely the kinds of expenses public investment can defray.

For Coloradans struggling with these ongoing cost burdens, a one-time, $100 tax rebate doesn’t go nearly as far as increased buying power through public investment does.

To give you a sense of the trade off – consider halving next year’s rebate checks would allow your state government to retain an additional $133 million in revenue. What can that kind of money do? For $31 million, we can subsidize pre-school for 8,000 4-year-olds whose family otherwise can’t afford it. For $75 million, we can avoid hiking college tuition and reduce crushing debt loads. For $30 million, we can provide full-day kindergarten throughout the state and help young families avoid paying hundreds of dollars per month.

Coloradans shouldn’t accept 9th place. We deserve to be No. 1. Getting there means investing in our future at precisely the time when we are most able to.