Shortly after being elected to the Colorado Senate, I met with a former Mayor of Erie and we got to talking about controversial issues. I was surprised we agreed on just about every issue, even though we are from different political parties.
"So, why are you a Republican?" I asked.
He responded, "I'm fiscally conservative."
"Me too!" I said.
Since that discussion, several constituents have told me they're "socially progressive and fiscally conservative." Democrats and Republicans alike have described themselves to me this way. Only, Democrats are more comfortable saying they're "progressive," while Republicans tend to call themselves "libertarian." I think they're both saying essentially the same thing: they just want government to spend their tax dollars wisely and get out of their private lives.
The real challenge is when progressive policies require government to spend money or hire new employees. How do you reconcile fiscally conservative and socially progressive values?
This conundrum demonstrates the need for balance in our approach to governing. We must have visionary leaders with courage to move our state forward, but they must temper their exuberance with sound fiscal policies that support new initiatives in a responsible way. In this sense, we must learn to run government like a business and ensure we have positive return on our investments.
Colorado's legislature passed two bills this year that will help further this balance and give policy makers better information. Both are born out of an adage I learned in the Navy: "You get what you inspect, not what you expect."
The first requires the State Auditor to do performance audits of every department of state government and report findings back to the legislature. The performance audits measure how well each department is doing in achieving its mission. This will allow us to implement performance-based budgeting to reward those agencies that are meeting their strategic goals, and root out waste in agencies that aren't. Where we have duplication or inefficiencies we will reallocate resources to priorities like K-12 education, scholarships, and economic development.
The second authorizes the State Auditor to contract with private, third party accounting firms to do cost-recovery audits of state agencies. These are audits used to identify overpayments made by state agencies to vendors and other entities in connection with services performed for the state. Overpayments waste tax dollars and detract from the effectiveness of state operations by diverting resources from their intended uses. The State Auditor will review state records back to 2007 to identify overpayments, recover these payments and again deposit them in the state's general fund for reallocation to priority services.
Both of these measures passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, and we have already seen results from greater scrutiny of the way departments manage taxpayer dollars. The State Auditor has issued reports on the Low Income Telephone Assistance Program, the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and Pinnacol Assurance; all of which identified problems that need to be addressed either by the agency in question or through legislation during the 2011 session. These audits help identify waste, streamline government services and save taxpayer dollars.
Socially progressive and fiscally conservative values are not mutually exclusive. Moving Colorado forward is not easy, but it's something we can do by working together and coming up with sound, moderate solutions for the problems facing our state. We do that by running our government like a business, and making sure our policies are both effective, and cost-effective.
Despite what most people think, Democrats and Republicans in Colorado actually agree about more than we disagree. When we set our minds to it, we can move forward on issues that matter. Our initiatives to create greater accountability in government and to ensure tax dollars are spent responsibly will serve Colorado well into the future.