Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Vote Early, Vote Often (Boulder Valley School District Issue 3A)

I went to the courthouse and voted early today. It was a good thing that I'd gone through all of the issues beforehand. I used one of the new electronic voting machines and there were something like 14 pages. Start to finish, it took me 25 minutes, and that was with essentially no wait time. I'm guessing that on election day it's going to be lots slower and the lines will be long.

I've previously been critical of the electronic voting systems, so I was very curious how it measured up. I had stated two conditions for acceptable use of electronic voting. The first was having a paper backup, and I was pleased to see that the system we are using in Boulder County (at least this year) does indeed print a paper copy of every ballot that can be used for recounts. Second, I said that there has to be a manual backup voting system, and there was in fact the option for anybody to vote manually.

As far as how difficult it is to vote using the new system, it seemed pretty straightforward. Complexity was very similar to the old punch cards (which I still see no reason for getting rid of). Perhaps a bit simpler because you don't have to deal with all of those paper ballots, or remembering to flip them over and vote the other side. Certainly quicker than voting on the new optical scan paper ballots.

One minor problem is that some of the text displayed on the new system (such as the details about the issues and names of judges up for retention) is in very small print. For a system that is supposed to be designed to help disabled people vote, they seem to have forgotten that a large number of people over a certain age have a problem reading small print if they didn't think to bring their reading glasses.

There was one ballot issue that I had not previously reviewed here, Boulder Valley School District Issue 3A. This measure would increase property taxes by about $100 per year for the average homeowner to pay for $300 million in bonds to improve the district's school facilities.

I'll admit I put off deciding because it's a tough issue. There's a very long list of projects, and the bottom line cost will be over $600 million after all the bonds are repaid. Clearly our schools are in need of serious facilities work. Also clearly, our school district officials have let us down by letting things get to this point. Many citizens have serious trust issues with district officials for how they have spent money from previous bond issues (curiously all numbered 3A on their respective ballots).

I also have a concern about what happens if both this measure and Amendment 39 pass. Without Issue 3A, Amendment 39 would force a big budget cut at BVSD. Add in $300 million in additional facilities spending and there will have to be huge cuts from somewhere else, I have no idea where.

So, when it came time to mark my ballot, I voted NO. Hopefully the school district officials can come up with a more palatable plan to make the required facilities improvements over time, rather than waiting until there is an emergency and they can blackmail us into this huge obligation.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

An Issue to Sink My Teeth Into (Boulder Issue 2B)

The proponents of Issue 2B would have you believe that you are voting to eliminate toxins such as lead and arsenic from our drinking water. Nothing is further from the truth. This issue is designed to, first and foremost, eliminate fluoridation of our city water supply.

Now, there are many arguments for and against adding fluoride to the water. On one side, there is no doubt that fluoride in the water has improved our dental health. On the other hand, there are increasing studies that show negative impacts of ingesting fluoride, such as reductions in bone density. This last certainly touches me, as I've fractured three vertebrae due to low bone density.

But this issue has not been described in these terms. If passed, it would require the FDA to regulate additives in our drinking water, something they just don't do. This on the basis on miniscule amounts of arsenic and lead added as part of the fluoridation process. This is a backdoor way to ban fluoridation.

By all means, let's have the real debate on adding fluoride to our water. Let's do it in the open and not based on subterfuge and misinformation.

In the meantime, vote NO on Issue 2B.

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Annexation Proclamation (Boulder Issue 2A)

City of Boulder Issue 2A would, with a number of exceptions, force a public vote on new annexations by the City of Boulder. As with many citizen initiatives, it focuses on one problem and comes up with a one-sided solution, without concern for any unintended consequences.

Who came up with the list of exceptions? Why force a vote on annexations on not on any other issue that our elected officials vote on? Why can't we just hold our elected officials accountable for what they do, instead of keeping them from doing anything that might possibly cause a problem?

Now, I'm as anti-growth as anybody. When North Boulder exploded with new construction over the past few years, I was shocked. Acres of grassland were turned almost overnight into row after row of ugly (in my opinion) houses. I'm not sure how this could happen within the constraints of our 1% annual growth limit. (An issue, perhaps, for another day's rant.)

However, Issue 2A is not the way to solve this. Hampering our elected government's ability to work in good faith on our behalf is not consistent with our founding fathers' vision of how our country should work. We need to elect officials who represent our best interests, and then allow them to do their jobs, while continually monitoring them and letting them know what we think.

Vote NO on Boulder Issue 2A.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Local Climate Change (Boulder Ballot Issue 202)

Issue 202 is the City of Boulder's attempt to come into compliance with the Kyoto Protocol on Global Climate Change. It would raise money by asking Xcel to tax electricity consumption. The typical household would see an increase of $1.87 per month, while the typical manufacturer would see an increase of $5.20 and an office building might see an increase of $33.

There is a detailed plan for how to spend this money. The plan itself acknowledges that there would be no significant global impact. So why would you vote for this? It's not even taking this money and buying us all solar panels.

Well, you have to start somewhere. If every city in this country did the same thing, there would be an impact. And then the state and federal governments would have to jump on the bandwagon. Pretty soon, we're setting an example for the world, instead of vice versa.

Plus, lowering our greenhouse gas emissions will have the side effects of lowering our energy use, cutting our energy costs, helping to clean the air, reducing traffic, and a whole list of other benefits.

Vote YES on Issue 202.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Train Those Fires (City of Boulder Ballot Issue 201)

City Issue 201 asks us to increase sales and use tax for one year by 0.15%, to raise $3.6 million for a new fire training center. Here are some things to consider:

The estimated cost for the fire training center is about $9.6 million, broken into two phases. The first phase is estimated at $6.1 million. The second phase is about $3.4 million, and consists of a number of upgrades that are nice to have but not critical for safety.

In 2001, a three-year sales tax was passed to build three fire training centers for Boulder County. Although the amount raised was less than projected because of declines in the local economy, a total of $3,775,000 was collected for the Boulder Center. Based on the 2001 estimate, we are only short about $0.9 million to build this center. What has changed in 5 years to make this fire center worth $1.5 million more, an increase of about a third? (The projected cost has more than doubled if you include the phase 2 items.)

The city has already messed up big time on this issue. It purchased property for the center, Valmont Butte, only to find that the property was unusable for this purpose, for a variety of reasons. Miraculously, after this debacle, the city was able to find suitable property THAT IT ALREADY OWNED.

A good fire training center seems like a good thing to invest in and can only enhance the safety of our city. However, I think the City of Boulder needs to get its story straight on this and come back to us with a reasonable plan, not just pulling number out of the air.

Vote NO on Boulder Issue 201.

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I Get Around (Boulder County Issue 1A)

Boulder County Issue 1A would impose an additional 0.2% sales and use tax (excluding food and prescription drugs) that would be spent on transit improvements (80% of the revenue) and trails (20%).

The transit improvements would be done in conjunction with spending already approved for RTD. Spending would be controlled by the county Transit Enhancement Plan, providing needed accountability. The projects to be funded include popular items such as Eco Pass, call-n-ride, improved mountain services, improved connections between cities within the county, special transit services for seniors, hybrid and alternative fuel buses, improvements to bus stops, and connections to bike and pedestrian facilities. These are all items that are not currently part of the RTD plan, or which can be enhanced by the use of county funds.

The trails improvements would be spent on building out the regional trails plan. This would add or complete many trails and important connectors that would get significant use. This includes the feeder canal from Lyons to Boulder Reservoir, trails between Boulder and Longmont, the Boulder County portion of the US36 bike path, and many other missing connections.

After 14 years, the tax will be cut by 75% to 0.05%, meaning that there will likely be another election then to continue funding for the various program improvements.

I think just about everybody will be able to find something to like about this proposal, as well as something they would never use. In Boulder we have proven that if you make the transit, trail, and cycling options meet the needs of people, they will use them, and you can make a significant dent in single-occupancy motor vehicle usage. The items identified in this measure would continue to move our region towards world class status.

Vote YES on Boulder County Issue 1A.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cleaning Up After Ourselves (Colorado Referendum F and Referendum G)

Referendum F updates the recall process for our state (including recall election for both state and local governments). It takes some of the provisions out of the state constitution and puts them into the statutes, where it will be easier to adjust them if necessary. Some of the deadlines are also adjusted to conform more closely to reality and what is feasible. This includes the deadlines for filing signature protests, for holding hearings on such protests, for fixing problems with petitions, and for holding the actual recall election. Looking through this, it seems like common sense changes.

Referendum G removes some obsolete text in the state constitution. Other than to history buffs, these provisions no longer apply today. And I assume that there are copies of older versions of the constitution being kept for historical purposes.

Vote YES on Referenda F and G.

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Give Us Your Poor (Colorado Referendum H and Referendum K)

These two referenda are meant to address the immigration issue, as well as to convince us voters that the state legislature has done something on that topic this term.

Ref H simply denies the corresponding state income tax deduction on wages for employers who knowingly hire unauthorized aliens. Employers will still get to deduct those wages on their federal taxes.

I'm sure that if this passes we won't be seeing many employers admitting that they are employing illegals, as this is in itself illegal. Therefore, this seems fairly symbolic. However, it does deny a tax write-off on something that is illegal, and as such seems like a fair thing to do.

I suggest voting YES on Referendum H, but it probably won't matter much either way.

I laughed out loud when I read Referendum K. See if you can follow this:
  • The state legislature is referring this measure

  • to the voters in Colorado, who are asked to approve

  • a law demanding that

  • the Colorado attorney General file a lawsuit

  • against the U.S. attorney general to demand that

  • the federal government enforce existing immigration laws.
Makes my head spin.

This measure is purely symbolic. Other states have tried similar lawsuits and failed. Plus, the state already has two laws direct the state attorney general to take all available steps to get the federal government to cover the state's costs for illegal immigration.

Referendum K is a silly waste of time and money. Vote NO.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Does It Help Puppies, Too? (Colorado Referendum E)

Gosh, who doesn't want to help disabled vets? Those of us who aren't disabled vets certainly feel guilty. Maybe giving them a break on their property taxes is the least we can do.

Referendum E would cut property taxes for 100% disabled vets by half on their homes' first $200,000 in value. The state would reimburse local governments for the cost of this tax break. The state legislature would also have the ability to adjust the amount of the break from year to year, as they recently did with a similar tax break we have already granted to seniors in this state.

Here is the fundamental flaw in this proposal that nobody wants to talk about. It's the sad puppy syndrome. Flash up a picture of a sad puppy (or some other image designed to make people feel guilty), and they will agree to anything. I'm not saying that helping disabled vets is bad (it isn't). But why them? Why aren't we offering to cut taxes for disabled firefighters? What about tornado victims? What about people who shelter lost puppies in their homes? What particular sacrifice or sad story is sufficient to earn this particular charity from the taxpayers of this state?

Regarding disabled vets, yes, our government owes them big time. That would be our federal government, which asked them to serve and then took the second biggest sacrifice it could ask. If we are not providing adequate compensation for this, shame on us.

But, as this Referendum is written, it is just a band-aid applied by a bystander. And, not a very good one. Remember, it only helps those vets with a 100% permanent disability who also own a home in this state. That is less than one percent of the vets in this state.

So, vote NO on Referendum E. And then write to your senators and congressional representative and tell them you are embarrassed to even have to consider this.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Get High With a Little Help from the Voters (Colorado Amendment 44)

Amendment 44 is the only citizen-initiated ballot proposal this year that would amend the Colorado statutes, rather than its constitution. That alone makes it deserve a closer look.

The stated goal of this proposal is to equalize the treatment of marijuana and alcohol in this state, and to provide a "safer" alternative to alcohol use. It would legalize the possession (and private use) of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and over.

Still illegal would be possession if you are under 21, possessing more than an ounce, providing marijuana to anyone underage, growing or selling marijuana, or any public use.

Also, unfortunately for Boulder City Council Member Richard Polk, it would not legalize driving while stoned.

Marijuana possession will also remain a federal crime, which means that petty pot smokers would still be subject to arrest and conviction by federal officers and courts.

I also note that, since growing and selling pot would remain illegal, a crime would still have to be committed in order to legally possess your small amount for personal, private use.

That said, I do believe that proponents are probably right, that it likely is safer than alcohol. In fact, I'd bet smoking a joint a day is safer than drinking a can of soda every day.

This law would also free up money and energy spent catching and prosecuting minor drug users.

This seems imperfect, but it's a step in the right direction. I recommend a YES vote on Amendment 44.

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Are You 10% of a Man? (Colorado Amendment 43 and Referendum I)

Amendment 43 is deceptively simple -- it adds a clause to the state constitution that says that "only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state." Referendum I is more complex, defining a new category of domestic partnership that grants gay partners many of the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. If you are my regular reader, you probably know how I'm voting on these.

The problems with Amendment 43 are many. First of all, I believe it violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans the establishment of a state religion, and guarantees the right to freely exercise one's own religion. As I've written before, this line is clearly crossed when a minister is arrested for performing a gay marriage.

Second, Amendment 43 is being added to the state constitution. This document is supposed to contain our state's guiding principles, guaranteeing rights for all of us. Putting it into the constitution only makes it hard to change. This is exactly what the proponents want. As time goes by and people become more accepting of people with different sexual orientations, this abomination cannot easily be undone.

In fact, the exact same limitation that is being proposed here is already a Colorado statute as well as a federal law. So, it is completely redundant and a waste of all of our time, energy, and money.

Look carefully at the words of the proposed amendment. "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state." So not only is any other type of union not a marriage, it also isn't valid. I don't know what that means, but I'm suspecting that the authors of the amendment intend it to mean that domestic partnerships are not to be valid. But, for all I know, it also means that trade unions would no longer valid be in Colorado.

It really irritates me when anybody, whether a lawmaker or a petition writer, puts ambiguous words into a measure with the intent that it be clarified in the courts. Not only is that expensive, it also proves that are cowards. They don't have enough confidence in their position to say and argue for exactly what they mean.

Let's look at some of the arguments for Amendment 43. First, there is protecting the definition of marriage. Well, perhaps I should circulate a petition to add the definition of the word "bigot" to the constitution, just so nobody gets confused about who it applies to.

Gay marriage does not threaten any particular marriage, nor does it in any way threaten the institution of marriage as a whole. Nobody is being forced into a gay marriage, nor is any hetero marriage being prevented or questioned.

This amendment is not needed to protect the historical definition of marriage. Marriage on this planet has had many forms over time. The current form -- boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, have kids, grow old together and die together -- has not been around for that long. Many societies have seen gay marriage, polygamy, marriage of convenience, arranged marriage, harems, concubines, and many other types of "unions". We are now contemplating writing a current "fad" into our constitution.

According to supporters, marriage exists solely to create, nurture, and protect children. Well, they are flat out wrong. Marriages exist for many reasons. When my wife and I got married, we knew we would never have children. When my grandmother remarried in her 60s, there were clearly no children in the plans. I consider this argument to be an insult, and I would not put up with it if it was used to my face.

The amendment is intended to protect marriage against so-called "activist judges". All this means is that proponents of this amendment are afraid that some judge will someday disagree with them. Well I hope so, but disagreeing with religious fundamentalists does not make a judge an activist, it just shows that he is thinking for himself.

Keep your religion out of our constitution, and reject Amendment 43.

On to Referendum I. This proposal would change the Colorado statutes (not the constitution) to create a new legal relationship for same-sex couples, called a domestic partnership. The members of this couple would be afforded most of the 100 or so rights and responsibilities accorded to married couples by Colorado law. It would not, however, provide any of the 1000 or so rights and responsibilities available to married couples by the federal government.

According to my rough calculation, this means that if this law passes the value of gays will be increased to about 10% of straights. Of course, there would still be a long way to go to even get to the 3/5 of a free man valuation that was guaranteed to slaves in the original U.S. Constitution.

The only significant argument against this proposal is that it takes the heat off the real issue, which is bringing gays up to 100% -- allowing committed couples to marry if they wish.

Vote for Referendum I.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Alms for the Poor (Colorado Amendment 42)

I don't believe that there are people that think the minimum wage should stay the same. There are people that believe that there should be no minimum wage at all, that the government has no business telling businesses how to run their business. Then there are people that believe that the minimum wage needs to be set at a fair level.

Well, the fact of a minimum wage has been settled in the country since 1938. It was put in place to provide workers during the Great Depression with a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. It guaranteed $0.25 per hour to those covered. As President Roosevelt said, it was "legislation to end starvation wages and intolerable hours".

So, if you accept the fact that there is a minimum wage and that its purpose is to end starvation wages, then it seems clear that the minimum wage needs to be tied in some way to cost of living.

In fact, Colorado Amendment 42 does just that. It would set the minimum wage in this state to $6.85 per hour, an increase of $1.70 over the federally mandated $5.15. It also increases that rate each year based on inflation. This is something our federal government has been unable to do, and now we have to opportunity to make it happen here.

Have I finally found the amendment I'm willing to vote for?

Well, no. People who use the initiative process to put things onto our ballot like turning them into constitutional amendments. This is because it prevents the legislature from messing with them, and maybe helps avoid some nasty conflicts with other laws that are merely statutes.

Unfortunately, this leads to writing nitty gritty details into our guiding document that often cause unintended consequences. For example, the voters in this state have approved constitutional amendments that force spending cuts across the board as well as mandating specific increases. We have to stop doing this.

That is why, although I support this issue, I will be voting against Amendment 42. What happens if Congress gets some courage and changes how the federal minimum wage is calculated? What if the economy drastically changes? Our hard-to-change constitution should not include wage dollar figures, specific formulas for increases, or how much to pay workers who get tips compared to those who don't.

At the federal level, we need to reframe the argument. Either the folks who are opposed to the minimum wage need to convince us that it should be repealed, or we need to raise it to a fair level and ensure that it stays at a fair level, rather than being a hostage to politics.

In the meantime, vote NO on Amendment 42.

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Making the Trojan Horse Illegal (Colorado Amendment 41)

Sigh. I keep reading these election proposals and hoping to find at least one that is a good idea and worth voting for. So far, no luck. Amendment 41 sounds good at least. It bans most gifts worth more than $50 to most elected officials and government employees in the state, as well as to their immediate families.

However, that's an awful lot of people who can no longer accept random acts of kindness. The amendment creates a 5-person ethics commission to enforce these new rules across all levels of government. Talk about a thankless job!

Suppose I have a friend who works for the city. According to this measure, I could take her out for dinner on her birthday, but not just for the heck of it. Her kid could not accept a scholarship, if it meant that she would have to pay less for his education. Forget about that free toaster from the bank for opening a new account. Her husband could buy her something nice for their anniversary, but he can no longer buy her a spur-of-the-moment gift.

There are some good things about this proposal too. For example, it bans gifts from lobbyists. It also prevents legislators and other statewide elected officials from becoming lobbyists for two years after they leave office.

Amendment 41 has good intentions, but seems to have lots of unintended consequences. And because it is a constitutional amendment, it will be nearly impossible to ever fix those problems.

Vote NO on Amendment 41.

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Judge Not Lest You Be Accused of Being an Activist (Colorado Amendment 40)

Amendment 40 is another attempt by a small group of Colorado citizens to bypass a proven system of government. We've already looked at Amendment 38, which would essentially castrate elected lawmakers that these cranks can't vote out of office. Amendment 40 would toss out any experienced judges, purely on the basis that they are, in fact, experienced. Kind of like throwing out the baby, the bath water, the soap, the wash cloth, the bubbles, and the wash tub. But at least we get to keep the rubber ducky.

Our founding fathers created three branches of government for very good reasons. Judges are purposefully not elected, so that they are not subject to the whim of the voters and can provide a balance against elected officials who might (gasp!) do something stupid just to get reelected.

Face it, no matter who you are, some judges will make some decisions that you don't agree with. Does that make such a judge an out-of-control activist? Who is more dangerous to our constitutional principles: a judge who allows gays to marry or a judge who allows habeas corpus to be suspended and prisoners to be tortured?

Amendment 40, if it passes will immediately force 5 (of 7) Supreme Court justices and 7 (of 19) Appeals judges out of office. These are all experienced professionals who have served the state for over 10 years each. Some of them will be automatically ousted in spite of having been previously approved by the electorate for retention. Even the judges who aren't getting fired will have to prove themselves in a 2008 retention election, even if already approved by the electorate beyond then.

Under this proposed insult to the state constitution, Supreme Court justices and Appeals judges will be limited to serving 10 years. Doesn't it make sense that the most experienced judges will be the best judges? Every judge is already subject to regular retention elections, possible impeachment, forced retirement at age 72, and other forms of oversight.

In 2009, under this new proposal, a very large number of judicial positions will become open. Maybe if you think your party has a good shot at the governorship this year you like those odds. But remember this, a large number of judges will be forced out in waves every 10 years, creating yet another opportunity for the governor at the time to stack the courts in his or her favor.

Think about this as well: The state will have to find a large number of skilled judges every 10 years all at once. That is likely to create a crisis when the judicial positions are not filled, as well as forcing us to lower our standards and bring in less competent or less experienced judges. Of course, I suppose that's the goal of the proponents of this amendment.

Amendment 40 is an insult to our country's founding fathers, an insult to our way of life (where else in our society do you get fired purely on the basis of having too much experience at a job), and an insult to our intelligence.

Vote NO on Amendment 40.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

65 Percent Solution is a 35 Percent Problem (Colorado Amendment 39 and Referendum J)

Two issues on the Colorado November ballot attempt to codify the amount of money spent by school districts on so-called direct classroom expenses. Amendment 39 is a proposed amendment to the state constitution, while Referendum J is an attempt by the state legislature to present a slightly more palatable option. Both specify that school districts must spend at least 65% of their budgets on such expenses (although the two differ in the definition of classroom expenses).

My first question, which I have not heard answered by anybody, is why 65%? Has there been some magical study that showed that spending at least that percentage better teaches our children? Or was that number just pulled out of somebody's hat to create a rallying cry?

If Amendment 39 passes, 166 school districts across the state (out of a total of 178) will somehow have to come up with a combined total of $278 million annually. That's $1.7 million each year for the average district. But these districts won't easily be able to raise the additional revenue, so what it really means is forced budget cuts across the board in "non-educational" areas.

Supporters of Amendment 39 would have you believe that it will magically increase spending in the classroom without increasing taxes. It will not. It is a stealth measure to cut public school spending.

What does this mean? Expect any and all of the following:
  • Firing principals, nurses, counselors, bus drivers, and food service workers

  • Eliminating teacher training

  • No cuts in student testing (which is mandated by law)

  • Drastic cuts in college placement, health services, food services, and transportation

  • School boards are probably safe, but expect public pressure for them to eliminate meals at meetings or some other drivel

  • Deferring building maintenance and repair, as well as new construction

  • Major cuts to school administration (this includes things like paying teachers and buying computers)
None of these cuts will be acceptable to the public, and so then what happens? Currently, about 8% of school budgets are already earmarked, which leaves a small group of spending areas that will have to be hit hard.

What about Ref J? In its favor, it wisely puts this rule into a state statute, which at least allows tuning the process as we learn about all the pitfalls to come. And it includes more types of expenses as classroom expenses (specifically principals and support staff). This means that most districts would be compliant at the start: Only three districts would have to make up a total of about a million dollars per year. But it still has the same fundamental problem of defining an arbitrary spending level for every single school district in the state.

In both cases, this is an example of the state trying to shoehorn a one-size fits all solution onto everybody, without regard for local concerns. There is no compensation for different local requirements for transportation, school lunches, utilities, and other expenses that may vary widely.

Ref J at least allows local voters to opt out of this arrangements. Any school district could by simple vote remove itself from having to meet the 65% rule. But Amendment 39 has no such safety clause.

There's another difference that jumps out at you if you read these two measures. Amendment 39 is obviously written by a bunch of ideologues trying to force their world view on the rest of us. Referendum J, as it was written by experienced lawmakers, at least has the appearance of considering all of the impacts, contradictions, and potential confusion of the measure.

So, what happens if a school district doesn't meet these new rules? They can always apply for a waiver, which may or may not be granted. If it is, they have another year to comply or to file for another waiver. If the waiver isn't granted, well, then unspecified sanctions just might be applied by the general assembly.

Or not.

Vote no on Amendment 39. If you strongly support this issue, vote for Referendum J as the lesser of two evils, but I'm voting no.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Sign Here If You Think There Oughta Be a Law (Colorado Amendment 38)

I got my blue book in the mail the other day, which means it's officially election season. At first, I thought there really were 2,006 ballot proposals. In actuality, there are only 14 (statewide) issues. Hopefully I can get through them all between now and election day!

Interestingly enough, the very first item on the list is one that, if passed, would make it quite a bit easier for us citizens to add issues to the ballot in the future. Amendment 38 has three fundamental flaws as well as numerous other problems.

Fundamental problems:
  • It's a constitutional amendment. These days, pretty much every citizen initiative is for an amendment to the state constitution. That's not because these are fundamental constitutional issues. Rather, it makes it harder for our elected officials to fix whatever problems the change introduces. However, this approach is a misuse of our state constitution, which should provide general guidance for the state government, while statutes should specify the specifics.

  • It overrides the principle of local control -- every local government at every level would have to allow citizen petitions exactly as outlined in this amendment.

  • It makes our representative democracy more irrelevant. It greatly limits the ability of our elected officials to do what we elected them to do.
These days, petitions signatures are mostly collected by folks who don't actually care about the issue, but rather get paid for each signature. There is plenty of incentive for the type of slime that results in signatures by people who don't understand the issue or who were misled about the issue. The amendment would only increase that.

For example, a group of folks here in Boulder decided that fluoridation of our water is dangerous, so they circulated a petition to eliminate it. However, instead of telling potential signers what their true goal is, they talked about how they wanted to eliminate toxic chemicals from our water supply. I know, I watched as they used this method to convince people.

In an episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit on Showtime, they did an experiment in which they circulated a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide. Lots of people signed it. The funny thing is that dihydrogen monoxide is just a fancy name for water. People signed the petition because the person with the pen made it sound so evil.

Onto the specifics of Amendment 38:
  • It eliminates the right of any locality to define a process for resolving ballot title disputes. All disputes go to the State Supreme Court. (I guess with all the ballot issues we'll be seeing, the Supreme Court is going to be very busy in the week before the election.)

  • Even in local elections, the number of signatures required is 5% (or less) of the people who voted for Colorado secretary of state in the last election. Do you know how many people actually vote for secretary of state (or could name ours)? Talk about setting the bar low! There is no provision for any locality to have a different standard.

  • This one freaks me out: They will no longer be able to sample the signatures to see if they are valid. If someone thinks there is a problem, they have to protest the specific signature and prove it is invalid. And the standards are much looser: Even if somebody misspells their name, the signature can't be thrown out.

  • You only have 10 days after the petition is filed to file a protest. That is not enough time to do any reasonable checking.

  • The proponents have a full year to gather signatures for an election. Then, if there are still not enough, those signatures can be rolled forward to the next November, allowing any random kooks to keep beating their dead horse until it miraculously comes back to life. And how many of those year-or-two-old signatures will be of people who moved away, or who signed two or three times because they just didn't remember?

  • It will be almost impossible for any state or local government to pass any law that can't be undone or changed by petition.

  • Worse, the elected government is slowly put out of business. Any time there is a vote on any citizen-initiated measure, the topic is no longer allowed to be voted on by the elected officials. This is true whether the measure passes or fails. Over time, the number of topics elected lawmakers can't vote on will be longer than the list of topics they can vote on.

  • Currently, nonpartisan state staff review each measure and write a description of each. Under this measure, there is no nonpartisan analysis. Proponents can write up to 1,000 words. Opponents, on the other hand, are limited to the number of words submitted by the proponents. For example, if the proponents of the anti-fluoridation measure on Boulder's local ballot were to simply say, "adding chemicals to our water supply is bad," opponents could respond with something like, "they're all liars and kooks; just vote no." No room for reasoned analysis.

  • Government officials are prohibited under this measure from discussing anything related to a measure once the petition process is started. This means they can't even provide unbiased information about the impact of the proposal.
Is that enough of an argument? Vote NO on Colorado Amendment 38.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

How's Your Aspen?

A grove of aspen trees is considered to be one of the largest living organisms on the planet (if not the largest) as well as among the oldest. Because the grove is connected by a single root system and shares a common set of DNA, the trees within a grove turn at the same time in the fall. This leads to one of the most spectacular and anticipated annual events in Colorado high country -- the viewing of the aspens.

Last weekend I went for a run on Switzerland Trail, north of Gold Hill (about 13 miles west of Boulder, at about 8500-9000 feet of elevation). Knowing it was the peak aspen viewing weekend, I brought my camera, and took the pictures you see here.

This picture shows a spot where the trail goes through the middle of an aspen grove.

The same grove from up close.

A panoramic view of a larger grove. The truck in the foreground gives a sense of scale.

The view from inside.

Sometimes it seems like a giant paintbrush was used on the side of the mountain. I think if you saw this from a plane you would be able to decipher the writing.

If you follow this trail far enough, do you get to the top of that mountain?

Looks like this grove thought I was coming up last weekend.

I'll be back next year!

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