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Let's make a deal!


Want to solve the state's budget crisis? Would a billion big ones help? Here's how.

Let's start with the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which established specific tracts of lands for the various plains tribes. The Cheyenne-Arapaho territory extended north to the North Platte River, south to the Arkansas River, west to the Front Range, and east to Kansas and Nebraska. That's about 122,000 square miles, and it includes both present-day Denver and Colorado Springs. The tribes honored the treaty; the United States did not. Following the Sand Creek massacre in 1864, the tribes were forced to renegotiate and were eventually removed from Colorado to a reservation in Oklahoma. Today, 11,500 of their descendants live on the rez, a squalid place where 70 percent of the people are unemployed.

Enter Golden, Colo., venture capitalist Steve Hillard, a selfless do-gooder if ever there was one. Hillard's plan: Let's make a deal! The tribes would give up their territorial claims in return for the right to build a casino near Denver. And not just some po' boy, mountain town, mom-and-pop slot emporium -- nope, we're talking a 500-acre complex, with 5,000 slots which, at full build-out, would rival Las Vegas. And what would Colorado get? Jobs, tax revenues, tourism and an up-front cash payment of $1 billion. And for Hillard to sprinkle his billion-dollar fairy dust on the state, all he needs, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, is the permission of both the secretary of the interior and the governor of Colorado.

So far, Gov. Bill has said no. But Owens is term limited in 2006, and Hillard must think that the next governor might be a little more receptive to his pitch. Why? Does he expect that Coloradans might elect a hard-drinkin', hard partyin', ramblin', gamblin' kinda governor? No, but the next one may not have any choice but to sign on the dotted line.

Come November, Colorado voters will decide whether to relax the provisions of the so-called Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which sharply limits the state's ability to retain and spend tax revenue. If the fix passes, we're fine; if not, we may be headed for a massive fiscal train wreck. And let's get real -- it's a complicated issue. So why would voters OK some incomprehensible proposal that just might let the politicians jack up their taxes? Answer: They won't.

All of a sudden, a billion dollars in cold, hard cash looks pretty good. And gosh -- the Cheyenne Arapaho descendents might just prevail in the courts. So, the next governor may find himself or herself saying, "Alas, to protect our property rights, I had no choice but to take the measly billion, and let them build this vast monument to immorality." And thanks to the billion bucks, all of the bad things that the anti-TABOR folks predicted -- crumbling roads, defunded higher ed., etc., etc. -- somehow don't materialize.

And we'll owe it all to two noble public servants: Selfless Steve Hillard and Dealin' Doug Bruce. See you guys at the no-limit blackjack table ... and, uh, I'd be more comfortable if you'd wear short-sleeved shirts.

Meanwhile, our own intrepid Republican legislators are doing their best to keep both state spending and drug company profits as high as possible.

Colorado is one of eight states that isn't part of a multi-state buying pool for drug purchases. Such pools negotiate with drug manufacturers for their lowest price, and in turn make those drugs available to low-income consumers at the discounted rate.

There are a couple of bills wending their way through the Legislature that would allow Colorado to join one -- a real no-brainer, you'd think, given the hundreds of millions that the state spends on Medicaid every year. Anyone with a lick of common sense would get on board -- and that, of course, excludes every El Paso County Republican legislator, all of whom apparently prefer to coddle the drug companies rather than save millions, and potentially protect seniors and the disabled from losing Medicaid coverage.

They're that blatant. And do they think they can get away with it? They must think we're asleep at the wheel, the kind of place where 85 percent of the voters don't even show up at the polls ...


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