Spending our money
Essay by Phil Doe
Politics – January 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine
IF YOU GAVE SOMEONE $158,100 a year with automatic increases regardless of the job done, an expense account of up to $3,000,000, a gold-plated health insurance policy that most working stiffs can only dream of, then topped it off with a diamond-studded tiara of a retirement system which allows up to 80 percent of working salary at retirement — wouldn’t you think that person would feel some sense of obligation? Forget about it.
This employment profile belongs to your U.S. Senator. Actually, it’s a double whammy, since each of us is burdened with the equally evil twin.
Evidence of each Senator’s disregard for us, their distant employers, is as overwhelming as the $388 billion omnibus appropriations bill just passed.
So what’s in this bill? Nobody knows for sure — it’s 15 inches thick. Senators haven’t read it, but they voted for it, thus giving the lie, once again, to their claim to be the world’s greatest deliberative body. We do know it’s laden with pork and back-door law making.
Here’s what’s been rooted out so far. Montana’s Senator Burns attached a rider which undoes parts of a federal law protecting wild horses and burros on public land, allowing some horses to be sold to slaughter houses. The estimated 30,000 wild horses roaming public land will sharply decrease so that the 7,000,000 private cattle grazing on public land at about $1.73 per cow and calf can increase.
Another rider increases our fees to use public lands. If we are caught without the requisite pass, estimated cost $85 to $100, we can be subject to a fine of $5000 and/or 6 months in jail. Dubbed the “walk-in-the-park” tax, it has been advertised as raising about $200 million in annual revenues.
This rider was introduced by a legislator from Ohio where there is no public land. It was opposed by many western senators — they’re instinctual about the limits of perfidy in their own backyard — but Senator Stevens of Alaska cut a deal to get another highway to nowhere for the 250,000 residents of Alaska, and we also got the “walk-in-the-park” tax.
Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico inserted a rider that forgives any repayment from Animas-La Plata (ALP) project backers of $163 million in recent cost overruns, thus ending the Reagan-era policy requiring developers to pay a significant portion of any federal water project.
Colorado’s senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the ALP project’s chief sugar daddy, had already forgiven all but a sliver of the original cost estimate of $338 million in earlier legislation. But Campbell apparently didn’t feel up to another squeeze on the taxpayers while still under criminal investigation for influence peddling.
The Domenici and Campbell giveaways of public money to ALP special interests have been accommodated through the massive fiction that ALP is going to cost a piddling $500 million. That’s a lot to you and me, but not to the folks who can pass a $388 billion spending bill without reading it.
THE TRUTH IS the $500 million merely covers the construction costs of the project. Missing from this calculation is the interest taxpayers will have to pay on this debt over the expected 100 year life of the project. It will be in the billions of dollars.
Also missing is the $50 million guesstimated for the Gallop Pipeline and $13 million for high capacity power lines to the project pumping plant in Durango. Domenici has already tabbed us for the former, and the feds are laundering the latter so that it doesn’t show up on project books.
Project operating costs are also missing from the grand total. We will have to pay them until some uses for this water can be found–figure decades. Again, costs will be huge since the water will have to be pumped uphill to a reservoir Domenici recently had renamed “Nighthorse Reservoir” in another bill. “Nighthorse Reservoir’s” only foreseeable use is a grandly subsidized venue for the seemingly inevitable Senator Campbell Memorial Regatta. We will also have to pay to replace project power to its present users.
Add in the $100,000,000 in cash settlements to the two small Ute tribes who, according to the myth spawned by Campbell and Domenici, have been waiting centuries for water. These 2400 Indian people already control over 150,000 acre feet of water, enough for over 1,000,000 people. The larger Southern Ute tribe has an investment portfolio estimated in the $2 billion range, which makes every man, woman, and child in the Tribe a millionaire, without even adding in the greater value of their oil, gas, land, timber, and water reserves. The portfolio gets larger each day from the cash and water the rest of us non-millionaires are, with the help of a few senators, shoveling their way. The Ute tribes are also the project’s general contractor.
Overall, project backers will pay less than 1 percent of the construction costs, basically none of the interest on this huge debt, none of the project’s operating costs until uses can be found for the water, and none of the replacement costs of power used by the project. Get ready for another doozy when they finally find a use for the water, and they get “our” senators to pay for moving it with our money.
The project’s costs are in the billions, with the public paying over 99 percent. The people who want it, the people with access, the people making campaign contributions to Senators Domenici and Campbell, will pay next to nothing.
Mark Twain defined a Senator as “a person who makes laws in Washington when not doing time.” He had it about right. But the only way we can get these folks to the hoosegow and squelch the special interest legislation coming out of Washington is with the truth. The truth is not partisan . It’s neither left nor right. We must act in unison if we are to stop the fools in Washington, the people we hired, from destroying our house.
Phil Doe, who lives in Littleton, chairs the Citizens Progressive Alliance.
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