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There’s a classic episode of The Simpsons when Bart and Milhouse leave their hometown of Springfield to visit nearby Shelbyville. Milhouse encounters the Shelbyville version of himself, a boy who also happens to frequently use the term “Radical!” At one point Milhouse overhears the boy saying his signature catchphrase, to which Milhouse replies, “Radical? But I say radical!”
I thought about that episode when I read this story in The Denver Post today:
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Gov. Bill Ritter on Monday unveiled a series of reform measures that he said could save the state nearly $150 million over the next five years.
The efforts range from top-dollar efforts to detect Medicaid fraud to seemingly small savings that would eliminate multiple signature requirements for some human services programs.
“Here in Colorado we think every taxpayer dollar is precious,” Ritter said during a news conference.
The savings were identified as part of the governor’s Government Efficiency and Management performance review – an ongoing $700,000 study designed to root out wasteful government spending.
A Republican lawmaker said the governor is swiping one of their talking points with budget savings across departments.
“Government efficiency?” said Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland. “That’s what the Republicans have been pushing for years.”
Republicans may have been talking about government efficiency for years, but they never seemed to get around to actually doing anything about it. Don’t forget: The GOP held the governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature for most of the last decade, and the only thing they did with government was make it less efficient. As Diane Carman of The Denver Post explains:
For conservatives, the belief that private industry does everything better and at less cost than the evil government is the sacred 11th commandment of politics…
…Here in Colorado, private firms supply everything, even bus drivers and prisons. Former Gov. Bill Owens was a believer in the 11th commandment, so contracts for public services during his terms exploded.
Unfortunately, oversight of those contracts didn’t keep pace.
The most glaring example of the mess created by overconfidence in private contractors was the Owens administration’s bumbling attempt to modernize state government through random, uncoordinated – and very expensive – information-technology systems.
Eight years and nearly $300 million later, Owens moved on, leaving his successor with a bunch of pricey computer systems that couldn’t compute.
The $223 million EDS Computer Benefits Management System that was delayed for years and then nearly shut down the food-stamp system when it finally lurched into action;
The $38 million SAP payroll system that couldn’t figure out how to issue overtime to employees in the Department of Transportation during last winter’s snowstorms;
Avanade’s $10 million Colorado State Title and Registration System that sent state police incorrect information, making arrests around the state just that much more exciting;
And two systems by Accenture – the dysfunctional $24.2 million unemployment-insurance system and the computerized voting-records system that never happened because the company missed so many contract deadlines the state simply gave up on it.
The earlier comment from Rep. Maristoca perfectly illustrates why Republicans are currently in the minority in Colorado: They talk a whole lot, but they do very little.
This is a mantra that I’ve repeated here at 5280.com for years. There are a lot of other reasons why Republicans are flailing away in our state, but the number one reason is that when they were in power, they didn’t do anything. Voters finally tired of Republicans that spent most of their time bickering over social issues like abortion and gay marriage, so they elected Democrats to see if they could do any better. And they have. Governor Ritter hasn’t been in office for a year, and he’s already done more to make government more efficient than Republicans ever could. And it’s not like Ritter’s proposals are all that ingenious – he just took the time to actually do something.
If the best Republicans can do is to cry out, “That’s OUR idea,” then Democrats are going to remain in power in Colorado for a very long time. Doing what you say you are going to do is not a complicated formula for success.