Our View: Special session an ode to politics
Sadly, the special legislative session on immigration is little more than election-year politics.
The special session starts Thursday. No doubt it will give state lawmakers a platform to crusade on the issue du jour and perhaps result in a ballot initiative that political analysts think could rally the Republican right in November.
But what the session isn’t likely to do is produce meaningful reform.
Such reform is needed, but must first come on the national level. Absent congressional action on issues such as border security and a guest worker program, the economic incentives of illegal immigration will continue, and anything the state of Colorado does will be, at best, symbolic.
Certainly there isn’t a sense of urgency on this subject that a special session of the Legislature implies.
Gov. Bill Owens’ decision to call the session was in response to the Colorado Supreme Court’s 4-2 ruling preventing Initiative 55, advocated by Defend Colorado Now, from going on the ballot in November. The initiative proposed denying illegal immigrants access to any state services that are not federally mandated. The initiative was, in our opinion, a mess. It was convoluted, mean-spirited and unnecessary because illegal immigrants generally can’t access such services anyway.
The court ruled that the initiative was unconstitutional because it violated the state’s one-subject rule for ballot initiatives. Last week, the court declined to reconsider its decision.
There has been debate about the court’s ruling — even some opponents of the initiative felt the court over-reached and that the initiative deserved to go to the voters. But for the governor to respond by calling a special session seems a waste of time and money.
There is an assumption that illegal immigrants are a significant drain on Colorado taxpayers through their use of social services. Unfortunately, little data exists that supports that assumption.
Defend Colorado Now estimated that illegal immigrants cost the state’s taxpayers $1 billion per year in federally mandated services. The Colorado Legislative Council puts the figure at $217 million. In a study released Friday, the nonpartisan Bell Policy Center said the total is $225 million, much of which is offset by the $159 million to $194 million that illegal immigrants contribute in sales, property and state income taxes.
No one seems to know how much the state spends on non-mandated services to illegal immigrants — the state agencies responsible for public health, human services, the environment, labor and higher education said they don’t have any way to break out such data. Local municipalities don’t either.
Many legislators — including state Sen. Jack Taylor and state Rep. Al White — welcomed the special session. Taylor and White said the session is necessary to give voters a chance to weigh in on immigration.
We disagree. The special session is an exercise in political pandering, and, given the lack of data, it is sure to be long on rhetoric and short on substance. It certainly isn’t necessary this summer.
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