Colorado entered the Great Pandemic without a “rainy day fund” to help immediately combat the catastrophe. That is not the fault of state politicians who had recently taken office. Much of the blame belongs to former Gov. John Hickenlooper and others who mismanaged federal funds allocated for our state.
To prevent spending sprees that lack accountability and transparency, Colorado voters wisely petitioned Amendment 78 onto November’s ballot. If properly understood, voters should enact this proposal in a landslide. It protects the public’s best financial interests from politicians with other agendas.
Incredibly, when the federal government channels money to Colorado, a handful of statewide officeholders get to spend it however they want. They don’t need to ask the Legislature before simply spending the money on almost anything.
As previously explained in this space, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — elected to the U.S. Senate in 2020 — had eight years to compile a substantial reserve fund for an epidemic or other disasters. He could and should have used millions of leftover federals dollars the state received for economic recovery after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Ten years passed between the attacks and the day Hickenlooper took office in 2011. Instead of tucking the money away for the next big crisis, Hickenlooper spent it. Media investigations found six figures in federal disaster funds went for Hickenlooper’s substantial and futile defense against serious ethics charges. Despite the expensive taxpayer-funded defense, the Colorado Ethics Commission convicted Hickenlooper on two charges of accepting illegal corporate donations and imposed a record-setting fine.
None of it kept Hickenlooper from winning a decisive victory that unseated then-Sen. Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper’s big win might signal to other politicians a false assumption that Coloradans don’t care if politicians misuse federal money. Amendment 78 would quell this fantasy.
Unlike the illegal corporate donations to pay for Hickenlooper’s travels, his misuse of recovery funds was legal. It was legal even though Hickenlooper spent more than six figures on “personal services” and nearly a half-million on membership dues to various clubs. Colorado voters so thoroughly resented Gardner — mostly because the senator supported then-President Donald Trump — they elected Hickenlooper despite his malfeasance. That does not mean they want more spending shenanigans. It only means they opposed Trump and his political allies, to Hickenlooper’s good fortune.
During Hickenlooper’s first gubernatorial term, nearly half of $10 million in remaining recovery funds was gone. That is a lot of money the state could have otherwise used to distribute food, masks and other needs during the early pandemic days.
Amendment 78 would require the Legislature to appropriate expenditures of “custodial money,” defined on the ballot as “money provided to the state.” That would include federal grants, settlement funds awarded to the state in lawsuits (think Volkswagen and opioid settlements), and other money “provided to the state.”
Colorado voters reliably protect their wallets from politicians on the right and left who consistently show gluttonous and insatiable appetites for wasting other people’s money. They waste it on dubious social programs for the rich and poor, on extravagant travel, on projects awarded without legitimately competitive bids, and more. That is why voters consistently defeat attacks on Colorado’s unique Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
Amendment 78 would put a stop to the misuse of “free” money to the state from the Federal Reserve. The law would subject federal money to checks and balances that involves the scrutiny of 100 members of the Colorado General Assembly. This means the money would more likely benefit the public, rather than going for one man’s “personal services,” ethics violations, or other expenses incurred unilaterally by the governor, attorney general, and other ranking state officials. They would have to justify expenditures to people of all backgrounds representing every square inch of Colorado.
It is hard to believe we need another ballot measure to ensure responsible use of government funds. Sadly, Chicago-style chicanery has established the need for more restraint on political heavyweights.
This should be the easiest question on the ballot. Voters who want their money used for its intended purpose, with accountability and budgeting, should approve Amendment 78. Vote “yes” to end big sleazy slush funds.
The Gazette Editorial Board