Colorado is at a crossroads. Crime is up, costs are up and there is uncertainty in our education system. How we respond to these challenges will have a long-term impact on the overall trajectory of our great state.
Unfortunately, liberal elected officials have pushed hard to the left since taking complete control of state government in 2018. Without any political balance, Colorado has been moving in the wrong direction.
Fortunately, conservatives are getting their act together – focusing on policies that will help provide more opportunity for more Coloradans. Our state needs leadership now more than ever, and it begins with these three issues:
Colorado is in the midst of a crime tsunami. According to a recent study by the Common Sense Institute, crime is 28% higher than it was in 2011. Property crime rates and auto thefts are among the highest in the entire country. And violent crime is at a 25-year high.
Before this study came out, nobody knew exactly how bad it was. That’s because we don’t have a statewide crime dashboard. How can these problems be fixed if policymakers and the public don’t even have access to the data?
One thing we do know is that Colorado is the fourth worst state when it comes to recidivism rates. Recently, a man was released after serving just seven years of a 23-to-life sentence for sexual assault. He reoffended – and the victim was 7 years old. We obviously need an overhaul to our system when predators like this are only serving 30% of their sentences.
We also know that the “defund the police” movement is having a negative impact on public safety. Aurora, for example, has lost 150 police officers in just the last 18 months. Thankfully, the new City Council recently approved retention bonuses to help build back the department’s morale.
And drug overdoses are up. We are on pace for over 700 deaths because of fentanyl – up from 222 in 2019. Currently, it’s only a misdemeanor if someone possess less than 4 grams. The problem is that 4 grams is enough to kill 2,000 people. John Kellner, district attorney in the 18th Judicial District, has been leading the effort to reform these laws, which will hopefully help save lives.
Colorado is becoming less and less affordable. Housing, energy, groceries, and child care costs are all up. Overall, inflation increased 6.5% in the Denver metro area over the last year. On top of that, legislators raised the gas fee and property taxes last year.
Not long ago, Colorado had the No. 1 economy in the country. Now, our employment rate is 33rd worst. The state budget has ballooned to $40 billion, while lower- and middle-class Coloradans are still struggling to make ends meet.
The only way we are going to make housing more affordable is by increasing supply. Therefore, our state and local policies should encourage development. We should also cap how much property taxes go up each year. Housing values went up 14.3% just in the last year. If we want to keep people in their houses, this kind of tax increase is not sustainable.
And with an influx of federal funds coming for transportation improvements, legislators should immediately repeal the increase to the gas tax. Gas is already too expensive, and this regressive tax hurts families and small businesses.
The pandemic has certainly put a renewed focus on education. As a former elementary school teacher and a father of four, I know that every kid has different needs. That’s why an “all of the above” approach to educational options makes sense. Whether parents chose to send their kids to district schools, public charter schools, private schools or decide to home-school them, everyone should have access to quality options.
We also need more accountability. Between the $2.5 billion in additional federal money and $450 million in additional state money for our education system, you would think teachers would be seeing big raises. The problem, however, is that only 58% of education money is actually going toward instruction. As an incentive, legislators should pass a bill to provide grants to school districts that decide to put 65% or more of their funding toward classrooms and teachers.
Public safety, affordability and education matter to people’s everyday lives. Over the next year, let’s all remember that the problems we face are too important to get distracted by partisan mudslinging. The future of our state is at stake.
Michael Fields is the president of Advance Colorado Institute.