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Laura Hershey Headshot

Independence and Interdependence: Equally Important Values

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Coloradans generally place high value on independence, chafing against any attempt to tell us where and how to live, what to believe, what to do with our free time. I'm no exception. I know what's best for me -- or at least what I like best -- and, as long as I'm not hurting anyone else, I want the right to follow my own desires.

But it's equally true that all Coloradans live in varying degrees of interdependence with each other. The western story of frontier settlers fending for themselves, growing or killing their own food and cooking it with fuel they gathered themselves, is as outdated as the Pony Express. Nowadays, we each depend on many people -- teachers to educate our kids, road crews to keep our highways drivable, business owners to provide goods and services, doctors and nurses to tend to our ills, journalists to dig up the information we need. And that doesn't even count the vast network extending throughout and beyond Colorado -- factory workers, farmers, miners -- all of whom help to meet the complex needs of the modern Coloradan.

I like to think that in determining our state's fiscal policies, we can be both sophisticated enough and honest enough to acknowledge that independence and interdependence must coexist. We can be free citizens, responsible for ourselves and pursuing our own interests, while also being responsible to our fellow citizens. By adopting fair, reasonable taxation and spending policies, we can maintain the web of supports and services that keep us functioning not just as individuals, but as a community.

Three initiatives on the November ballot -- Amendment 60, Amendment 61, and Proposition 101 -- would tear that web to shreds. By imposing extreme limits and unworkable restrictions on Colorado's taxation system, these measures would dry up funding for public education, public safety, public health, and public infrastructure.

Among one of many dire consequences would be deep cuts in a program that affords independence to me and thousands of other disabled people. More than 30,000 Coloradans with physical and mental disabilities, who need help with basic tasks like getting out of bed, dressing, bathing, and eating, get that assistance from state-paid home health aides. Recipients of these services include adults of all ages and races; students, retirees, workers, community volunteers; Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. We live all over Colorado. We're your neighbors, your family members, your friends and coworkers.

If voters are persuaded to approve 60, 61, and 101, all Medicaid programs, including these life-enhancing services, will be gutted. Henry Sobanet, former director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, has estimated that if the initiatives pass, the state would have to slash its appropriation to the state Medicaid agency by over one-third. That could translate to reduction or denial of essential services to thousands of people.

Without the daily help provided by Medicaid dollars, Coloradans with disabilities face a frightening future. Some of us would be trapped in nursing facilities, forced to rely on a changing cast of strangers, unable to choose our own roommates, friends, recreational activities, daily schedules and menus. Some would become too sick to function, perhaps ending up hospitalized.

Both alternatives would cost taxpayers far more than the price of the home and community based services currently keeping us independent. And there will be other costs if these dangerous ballot measures pass. Families will be torn apart, as parents or partners or children with disabilities go into institutions. Disabled workers will be forced to give up working, and students will have to drop out of school. These initiatives, by denying interdependence, will not make anyone more independent. They will only erode our communities.

Copyright 2010 by Laura Hershey