I am a relative neophyte to a lot of the workings of Colorado’s state government. I am working feverishly to learn so I can share with others, and I have to tell you that some of what I am learning is an increasing cause for concern on my part.
Have you ever thought about who is running our state? I mean, in an everyday sense, who makes many of the decisions that have tangible (and rapid) impacts on your life? If you guessed it’s always the governor, the legislature or judges, you’re wrong. Quite often it’s boards and commissions.
Boards and commissions are increasingly deciding an ever-growing list of things about your life and our state’s economy. They are doing this with the blessing of our elected officials.
In some ways, having boards and commissions being at the forefront makes sense. We have a part-time legislature made up of people from a variety of backgrounds. They may not be around or have the expertise to handle things in a timely way.
The cost for this is that the General Assembly must delegate some authority to commissions and boards — people with the necessary experience and the ability to respond year-round.
Unfortunately, like any addict, it seems our legislature is unable to moderate its use of boards and commissions. In fact, I believe our state is close to a tipping point where, as a friend of mine put it recently, commissions and boards are becoming a fourth branch of government.
This wouldn’t be as egregious if the boards’ powers were kept to a relatively narrow part of our lives, but that has not lately proven to be the case.
Consider the effort underway by unelected state and regional commissions to develop an “Employer-based Trip Reduction Program.” Proposals under discussion call for new rules on businesses with possibly as few as 100 employees, forcing them to (among other things) monitor employee driving habits, submit reports to the state, and curtail a given percentage of employee trips to and from work on a fixed schedule.
The Regional Air Quality Council, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Transportation are in the process of finalizing a statewide proposal for submission to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission — a group appointed by the governor. It could then become a rule that every qualifying employer must abide by.
Whether or not you agree with the necessity for limiting car travel, I hope you agree that this is a gigantic amount of power in the hands of a very few. Many lives and businesses will have to change based on the decisions of unelected commissions.
Additionally, what recourse do we have if we don’t like it? Can you or I vote out any of these commissions to hold them accountable?
The revelry at the Capitol just doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing either. When you look at the legislation coming out of the General Assembly this season, you’ll see examples aplenty. Below are a couple of the worst ones I could find.
(Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t say “worst” in terms of the policy idea. You and I might disagree on the idea behind the policy, but I say “worst” in terms of how much control over the economy and lives of Coloradans there is concentrated into the hands of a few.)
- Senate Bill 175 would appoint a board to set maximum prices on prescription drugs in the state. If companies want to sell that drug here, they would have to be below that price.
- House Bill 1232 would, if private insurers and hospitals don’t meet the state’s demands on pricing and services offered with insurance plans, appoint a board with power to determine what things are necessary in an insurance plan (pediatric dental care for childless singles in Obamacare, anyone?) and then force, under threat to their licensure, providers to accept this plan.
Put this in the context of something besides health and you will get a good idea of how much control these boards have over people and the economy.
Can you imagine a group of people telling a car dealer that he must sell a car to someone for less than $900 or they’ll put him out of business? Can you imagine a group of people telling a flower shop owner how much is too much for those roses?
Whatever amount of market control you think the government should have, whatever your feelings about health care and the environment, I hope you join me in the commonsense idea that when we do decide to make big, weighty decisions like those above, we should put the power in the hands of those who are closest to the people and most likely to hear their voice.
I hope you join me in calling for a government of and by the people, not of and by an oligarchy of commissioners.
Cory Gaines, a college instructor in Sterling who runs the Colorado Accountability Project on Facebook, lives for what Richard P. Feynman called “the pleasure of finding things out.”
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