By Keith, Boomer Volunteer
Prior to offering my thoughts on TBD Colorado, it seems reasonable to share some personal background. If I had to label myself, I would say I am a conservative Democrat, a Vietnam veteran and a retired engineering manager from a large automotive company. Like many seniors today, I live on a fixed income. While I managed to reach retirement age with very little political experience, I have recently “jumped into the pool” by joining two groups; Boomers Leading Change in Health and Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. My focus on health care is a result of difficulty I experienced securing health insurance after retirement.
After self-nominating myself for the TBD Colorado activity I was notified of my acceptance by email and the first Region 31 Douglas County East meeting was held on Wednesday April 11th at the PACE center in Parker CO. Prior to the meeting, we were instructed to read the Framing Documents. These documents focused on five specific topics (Education, Health, State Budget, State Workforce-Talent and Transportation) and frankly painted a grim picture of the financial condition of the state. I would summarize the content as, “We’ve done good things in the state but we’ve backed ourselves into a fiscal box that we cannot save our way out of. Services or deliverables will suffer going forward”.
The meeting opened with some ground rules followed by introductions, including the observers sitting in the back of the room. The facilitator went to great lengths to describe the process and the content as non-partisan, transparent, created by volunteers and that it used no taxpayer dollars. Meeting participants included members of local and county government, teachers and educators, businesspersons and a few other “John Q. Citizen” types such as me.
During the introductions, one of the folks made it clear that her reason for attending was to “prevent taxes from being raised”. I found this comment consistent with my original thoughts when I read the Framing Documents. The bulk of the meeting was spent dissecting each of the five subjects. We viewed a short video by a subject matter expert on each of the five subjects, and then we were asked to vote, using an electronic signaling device (outcome visible to all) on the importance of the issue going forward. After having a brief table and then group discussion, we voted again on each of the subjects (to see if discussion had altered anyone’s opinion).
The comments offered by all participants were blunt, diverse and heartfelt. Some things of note include the fact that not everyone considered health care a serious issue going forward (someone pass me the smelling salts…). During the dialog on the State Workforce and Talent, the subject of PERA became something of a Piñata with clearly divided opinions freely offered. I also listened with interest when one participant stated that many of the problems we were facing in the transportation and health sectors were a direct result of the increasing demographic slice of senior citizens, many of whom have migrated into the state (myself included). Therefore, “a logical solution would be to institute a border check and turn away those too old to financially contribute to the state” (a comment offered in jest…. I hope). It became obvious to me that it would be easy to slip into a mode of pitting one demographic group against another, which would produce an outcome that we would all regret.
What I heard during the meeting started to challenge the opinion that I began with. I came to accept that we have serious issues facing the state. These issues have roots in the recent “great recession” that we have all experienced as well as some well intended but rigid, voter applied state budgetary constraints that severely limit flexibility in responding to the current economic condition. Factor in growing pressure to provide an education system that will allow our children to compete on the global stage and a general increase in the cost of just about everything these days (something we can all attest to) and you can see where the problem comes from.
Like most my age, I remember Watergate, Kent State, the Bay of Pigs, and Vietnam, and as a result have a “healthy skepticism” regarding the government. As a senior on a fixed income, I find it difficult to embrace anything that might lead to an increase in taxes. However, a lifetime in business also leads me to believe the data presented and to approach these problems with an open mind (talk about being between a rock and a hard place…). I think everyone needs to see this data (and a bunch more) to reach his or her own conclusions. If we are to continue to provide services and infrastructure that we have come to expect in Colorado, and prepare ourselves for the future then hard choices will have to be made. Even though my view of the future may be different than say a 30 year old, I don’t want my children to have to pay for things that we should have been paying for today.
I am not jumping on the tax increase bandwagon yet but I am listening with both ears.