Rhetoric meets reality

Doing right things, Roberts, Brown run afoul of politics

State Sen. Ellen Roberts and state Rep. J. Paul Brown are experiencing the disconnect between political rhetoric and reality. And both have, or can expect to suffer for it. That is unfortunate, for they acted correctly.

For Roberts, the pain probably lies largely in having considerable effort go for naught. But it must also be disheartening for a Republican to come face-to-face with the reality that excessive government regulation is not just the provenance of Democrats and bureaucrats. It is also sometimes backed by one of the party’s favorite constituencies – business.

Roberts carried a bill that would have undone a requirement that towing companies post a $50,000 bond to cover potential fines levied by the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Her bill would have lowered the bond to $10,000 in big Front Range counties and repealed it altogether in smaller counties.

Tow companies in Roberts’ district had objected that the bond would, depending on their credit rating, cost $500 to $7,000. That could be a significant burden for an independent operator, as most tow companies are in small towns and rural areas.

The stated purpose of the larger bond was to defend against shady operators. Small tow companies, it was said, could evade PUC fines by closing down and reopening under a new name. PUC records, however, show only 14 fines have gone unpaid in the last three years.

It would seem the real problem is competition. The hefty bond was pushed by a lobby group called Towing and Recovery Professionals of Colorado, the interests of which are at odds with those of many of the independent tow companies in Roberts’ district.

Standard GOP rhetoric is pro-business and anti-regulation. In fact, though, a great many regulations are enacted at the behest of businesses. They want to be regulated because rules and licensing serve to limit competition as much as to ensure public safety. After all, how much societal risk is there to gypsy cabs or unlicensed people cutting hair?

So here we had a Republican state senator arguing against a business group lobbying for regulation of its own industry. Roberts was right to defend her constituents; the bond is onerous and unnecessary. But it was an odd alignment all around. Democrats killed Roberts’ bill on a 4-3 vote in committee.

J. Paul Brown has yet to take his lumps for his recent votes. He can be assured, though, that on at least one count he will.

Brown may have angered some in his own party by voting against a fellow Republican’s bill to cap increases in electric rates allowed by the Public Utility Commission. He thinks the PUC was created for a reason and should be allowed to do its job.

Any complaints, however, should be short-lived. The GOP needs all hands right now and nothing about the PUC is easy to explain.

But Brown also voted to raise his own pay – and that will fit on a bumper sticker. He can be sure the Democrats will pummel him with that. The tea party crowd might get a few licks in as well.

The thing is, he was right. Colorado legislators are woefully underpaid, particularly those living far from Denver in the less populated parts of the state. They have to keep two homes and travel constantly to keep in touch with their districts.

None of that is cheap. So, unless we want a Legislature made up mainly of the wealthy, the corrupt, or the hyper-ambitious seeking only a stepping stone, we should pay them a living wage.

Brown was right to vote for a pay increase. But he will get beat up for it.