Oct 242005
 
Authors: Vimal Patel

 

Some of the many programs and services on the cutting board include:

-Medicare coinsurance and deductibles

-Colorado's Council on the Arts

-County contingency funds

-Burial reimbursements for the needy

-State funding for Senior Services

-Instant Criminal Background Check

-The Office of Victims Programs

-The Office of Domestic Violence and Sex Offender Management

-The Office of Adult and Juvenile Justice Assistance

-The Poison Control Hotline

-The Hazardous and Toxic Control program

-The Office of Suicide Prevention

Douglas Bruce is "obnoxious, annoying and prickly," said Fort Collins resident Mel Hilgenberg. Even so, the nearly lifelong Coloradan says he has an enormous amount of respect for Bruce, the author of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR).

Hilgenberg supported TABOR in 1992 and, like Bruce, is vehemently opposed to Referendums C and D, measures that would amend provisions of TABOR and let the state spend more money.

Referendum C would allow the state to keep and spend an estimated $3.7 billion over the next five years – money slated for healthcare, education and road repair. And D would allow the state to immediately borrow $2.1 billion of that money through bonds.

"I have a great deal of respect for Bruce, but I don't like him," Hilgenberg said. "I don't care for his very abrupt, no-nonsense style."

A mind resolved

Despite the fact that Hilgenberg won't encounter Bruce at a hug fest anytime soon, the former educator acknowledges that TABOR was the result of an extreme amount of focus and determination on Bruce's part.

"It took Doug Bruce years to get the bill refined," he said.

Bruce, who is now an El Paso county commissioner, must be used to the criticism by now.

He has been called a radical by many. John Straayer, a CSU political science professor, said Bruce will not be happy until all government is eliminated. Roy Romer, former Colorado governor and current superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, reportedly called Bruce an "economic terrorist."

Romer did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment.

At CSU, proponents of C and D have estimated a tuition increase of up to 50 percent if the measures fail, warning that students will be driven away from higher education in droves.

A question of freedom

But to Bruce, defeating C and D is about freedom. In fact, everything he's ever done has been about freedom, he stated on his Web site.

Bruce said the concept of the redistribution of wealth stems from the Communist Manifesto and points out the fact that there is no Constitutional right for senior citizens to have healthcare and the young to be educated.

"When did we ever consent to all this socialist spending?" Bruce asks. "It's not in the Constitution."

Now, 13 years after TABOR changed the face of state spending, Bruce is fighting C and D – measures he calls "a direct attack on TABOR."

Bruce was an honors graduate from Hollywood High in California. After high school, he attended Pomona College, where he majored in history and government.

He was a scholarship law student at the University of Southern California and became a deputy district attorney at age 23.

The vast majority of Democrats support C and D, and even a sizable percentage of Republicans are backing the measures. Most notable is Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who supported TABOR in 1992 but is now one of the leading proponents of C and D.

Owens says he's a strong supporter of TABOR but recognizes the need to be flexible.

In an open letter to Colorado citizens, Owens said TABOR has prevented Colorado from "going down the tax-and-spend path that has damaged other states," but that Referendum C is a "reasonable and necessary" measure.

"(Referendums C and D opponents) claimed that this proposal would dismantle the spending caps and the mandatory votes on tax increases that are the hallmark of TABOR," Owens said in the letter. "None of this is true."

The measure would suspend the limit on the amount of money the state could collect for five years, making the base from which state spending is calculated higher than where it is now.

Through his Web site, debates with C and D supporters, including with Owens, speeches to anti-tax audiences and press conferences – including one scheduled for today in the state capitol – Bruce is active in the defense of his brainchild TABOR.

Deep cuts

State economists estimate that Colorado will have to slash and eliminate several programs totaling $365 million in order to balance the fiscal year 2006-07 budget.

This has led the Office of State Planning and Budgeting to prepare a list of possible programs to axe. Several programs would take deep cuts as well.

Some programs and services that are on the chopping block include burial reimbursements for the needy, state funding for Senior Services, The Office of Suicide Prevention and the Poison Control Hotline, to name just a few.

Proponents of C and D say these massive cuts would only be an extension of the stranglehold already placed on state government spending.

"I think that belt tightening is good for the government," said Sen. Steve Johnson, a Fort Collins Republican and supporter of C and D. "And we did that. However, we cut into central, needed services that this state depends upon."

Higher education has already taken some heavy blows because of the state's fiscal condition. Tuition has increased by 15 percent this year and CSU President Larry Penley earlier this semester estimated a 30 to 50 percent tuition hike if C and D are shot down.

If higher education is reduced by just 10 percent, the result would be a $60 million cut, according to Henry Sobanet, Owens' budget director, in a memo to Owens last week.

But higher education will probably take at least a 20 percent cut, since it's the easiest way to trim spending, Sobanet wrote. Reducing the amount of money spent on prisons would be dangerous to public safety, and an increase in Medicaid and K-12 education is mandated.

Straayer has criticized Bruce and other proponents such as the Independent Institute's Jon Caldara, as spewing populist rhetoric while providing no solid details about where state-spending cuts would be made if the ballot measures fail.

Bruce did offer the Collegian some specifics about how to live on a leaner budget.

Starving the beast

Opponents of the November ballot measures acknowledge the state is failing to provide basic services. But, they say, the problem is primarily the result of wasteful government spending, not a lack of government funding.

One area in which spending can be reduced is professors' salaries, Bruce said.

"Most of the ones I've seen have been paid an obscene amount," he said. "We just don't need that kind of arrogant elite. … Look at what we're paying professors, including Ward Churchill."

Churchill, a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder, garnered national attention when he wrote an essay calling some victims of the World Trade Center attacks "little Eichmanns," a reference to Nazi propagandist Adolf Eichmann.

Bruce said Colorado citizens shouldn't have to spend their money to subsidize professors like Churchill, or any other professors for that matter.

In fact, several opponents anecdotally used Churchill as an example of wasteful government spending.

"Taxpayers don't have any interest in the heritage of Chief Ooga Booga 200 years ago," Bruce said.

Educational institutions should charge students what it actually costs to administer an education, Bruce said. "That's a radical idea," he added sarcastically.

Straayer said Bruce is essentially advocating the privatization of schools.

"Douglas Bruce would be happy when government disappears," said Straayer, who specializes in Colorado politics. "I don't think he'll ever stop criticizing government until it's gone."

Humor

Hilgenberg shares much of Bruce's anti-tax ideology. He said Colorado educational institutions should consider eliminating the "soft sciences" – psychology, social studies and political science – in order to save money.

Where would students go to learn these subjects?

"The school of hard knocks – in the streets," he said. "Psychology is a junk science at worst and soft science at best."

Despite sharing many of Bruce's sentiments toward government spending, the Fort Collins resident just couldn't get over the TABOR author's personality.

 

"The major thing I dislike about him is he lacks a sense of humor," he said. "He acts like a nasty, humor-impaired Californian."

Bruce might disagree. After all, a section on his Web site is titled "Humor." It contains only one item, though: "A major research institution has just announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element has been named 'Governmentium.'"

Take that, Hilgenberg.

But like him or hate him – or respectfully dislike him, as Hilgenberg does – the TABOR author's polemic-infused rhetoric coupled with an unwavering stance against taxation has made him a polarizing spokesman in the campaign to defeat C and D.

Whether voters will buy what he and other anti-tax advocates are selling – a government in which taxpayers keep more money at the expense of higher education, mentally disabled adults, sick senior citizens, and road repair – remains to be seen.

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