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Proposed Health Care Slush Fund Violates The Public Trust

Opinion Editorial
May 8, 2002

By Linda Gorman

With new tax money in short supply, the legislature has a duty to prune state government. As legions of Colorado business executives can tell you, this is a nasty, unpleasant duty that is absolutely essential to an enterprises long-term survival. Unfortunately, it is a duty that some legislators seem determined to avoid.

For evidence, consider H.B.1281, a bill to create a Colorado Traumatic Brain Injury Board composed of 13 people controlling a state health care slush fund worth about a million dollars. The money will come from a $15 surcharge on convictions for alcohol and driving while impaired, and a surcharge of $10 on all speeding tickets. The surcharge for speeding will be $12 when written by a municipal or county official. The extra two dollars is payment to the locals for writing the ticket.

No matter how good the cause, this kind of arrangement is an unconscionable violation of the public trust in law enforcement. Safe speeds limits and safe blood alcohol levels are by nature arbitrary creations of the state. There is no clear evidence, for example, that lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from 0.10% to 0.08% (about 36 ounces of beer over two hours for a young 120-pound woman) will do anything to reduce traffic accidents. Drunks who cause traffic accidents almost always have blood alcohol levels higher than 0.10.[i] Safe speed limits are also debatable. In general, traffic engineers have found that the highest safe and reasonable maximum speed for any road is the speed below which 85% of the vehicles on the road travel. After monitoring sites around the country, the Federal Highway Administration determined that arbitrarily lowering the speed limit increases driver speeding violations. It does not reduce accidents.

Rewarding municipalities with cash for safe drivers who exceed unreasonably low speed limits gives greedy bureaucrats a strong incentive to set arbitrarily low limits. The National Park Service has already tested the concept by using photo radar to ticket perfectly safe drivers who exceeded its low limits on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. In Denver, almost every driver has a favorite story of perfectly ridiculous speed limits on sections of major arteries that appear custom designed for revenue collection. Such naked greed, whether or not garbed in faux protestations of safety first, causes reasonable adults to have less and less respect for the law and the people who make it.

This bill also manages to politicize the treatment of traumatic head injuries by avoiding accountability for a board dominated by bureaucrats, psychologists, and advocates. After the boards expenses, the bill requires that 65% of the trust fund be used to provide services to people with brain injuries, 5% will go for education for people with brain injuries, and 30% will go to grants for research “related to the treatment and understanding of traumatic brain injuries.” These days almost any activity can be stuffed into one of these categories including lobbying for lower blood alcohol and speed limits in the name of safety, stricter enforcement, and, surprise, surprise, higher revenues.

The fiscal note accompanying the bill estimates that start-up costs will be $178,000 and that at least $75,000 a year will be consumed by consultants for administration. The unlucky speeders and drinkers tagged by police will contribute another $1,000,000 of their money to support the boards activities. Although the bill limits administrative costs to 5% of collections, the fiscal note emphasizes that at current traffic conviction rates the boards known administrative costs already exceed the 5% limit. No prizes for guessing how the bills supporters plan to make up the deficit.

To give some perspective on all this, note that Colorado already spends $4,300,000,000 a year on its human services and health care safety net.[ii] Statewide, there are about 3,500[iii] traumatic brain injuries a year in Colorado that either cause death or require hospitalization. They can leave people profoundly disabled and facing lifetime care costs as high as $2,000,000. Any safety net worth the name should already provide needed services for people who lack the resources to deal with such injuries, and those services should be funded from general revenues. If Colorado isnt providing them, legislators might ask just what the state is spending four billion dollars on?

In fact, why set up a board at all? Why not skip the board, save the overhead, and support even more research by slapping a surcharge on parking tickets, jaywalking, littering, speeding, and swearing. Then send the money to Englewoods Craig Hospital. A creature of the private sector, its already one of the finest brain injury research and rehabilitation facilities in the world.


Copyright 2002, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

LINDA GORMAN is Director of the Rocky Mountain Center for Health Care Policy at the Independence Institute, and also serves the Institute as a Senior Fellow.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at: http://independenceinstitute.org/

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

1. United States General Accounting Office. June 1999. Effectiveness of State 0.08 Blood Alcohol Laws. GAO/RCED-99-179. Washington, DC. http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgibin/useftp.cgi?IPaddress=; Daniel Eisenberg. January 2001. Evaluating the Effectiveness of a 0.08% BAC Limit and Other Policies Related to Drunk Driving. Stanford, California: Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Paper No. 00-23. http://siepr.stanford.edu/papers/pdf/00-23.pdf . William R. Latham III. February 1997. A Critical Review of Two NHTSA Studies. Washington, DC: The American Beverage Institute.

2. Federal Highway Administration. January 1997. Effects of Raising and Lowering Speed Limits on Selected Roadway Sections. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration, FHWA-RD-92-084. summary athttp://www.tfhrc.gov/safety/rd97002.htm; reprint at http://www.dot.state.oh.us/dist1/planning/TrafficStudies/2hj01!.pdf, p. 86.

3. Joint Budget Committee, State of Colorado. Fiscal Year 2001-02 Appropriations Report, online version as of August 24, 2001. p. 12.

4. MMWR Weekly. January 10, 1997. “Traumatic Brain InjuryColorado, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah, 1990-1993. 46(01); 8-11. As published on the web, 17 April 2002, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00045570.htm.