Bruce Talk

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"People are looking for a line item to cut that says 'Waste, Fraud & Abuse,'" he notes. "It doesn't exist. But I have devoted my life to doing what I can to dismantle the welfare state. That's the diuretic elephant at the tea party that nobody wants to mention. We're spending something like $650 million on higher education, and we're subsidizing tuition so the guy back there working in the bakery" -- his fork, suspended, aims at an unsuspecting kitchen worker -- "has to pay higher taxes so that some spoiled kid from Boulder gets to go to CU for six or seven years and never has to graduate. That's immoral to me. I would concede that there is some social benefit to having people get a basic education, but not for some fast-food worker subsidizing a guy going for his doctoral degree."

Why not lay off handsomely paid professors and have the rest teach more and do less research? (Tenure, anyone?) Why not close satellite campuses and sell them to private enterprise, particularly since property sales are exempt from the TABOR revenue restrictions? "Why shouldn't higher education be treated as a commodity?" Bruce asks. "Even the educrats now treat it as an economic calculation that allows you to pursue future higher earnings. So why should the government have a monopoly on it?"

If education is considered too sacred, Bruce has other suggestions. Although advocates for the mentally ill have expressed outrage over how current and impending cuts will affect that vulnerable population, Bruce doesn't share their concern.

"I have this affliction, which is called seeing things the way they really are," he sighs. "They said if we cut the welfare rolls, we'd have people dying in the street. Well, they cut the rolls by half. But have they laid off half the caseworkers? Is the welfare budget half of what it was before? Of course not. If people didn't think the government was going to take care of things, then they'd give more money to charity.

"It's not the job of the guy behind the counter there" -- again with the fork -- "to pay the hospital bills of some chronic drunk lying in the gutter on Larimer Street. Private charity is available, and it's able to distinguish between the malingerers, the troublemakers and those who really need a hand up. Some people just want to milk the system."

Years ago, when he was a prosecutor in California, Bruce sponsored a family of Vietnamese refugees. They stayed in his house, he says, until they could afford an apartment. Within a few weeks, they had a car and jobs. As a landlord, though, he's tangled with troublemakers, too.

"I deal with tenants who are milking every conceivable system," he says. "Do you know how many people in Pueblo are on disability? It's unbelievable. And many of them are perfectly able-bodied people. Yet you can't find people in Pueblo to do yard work."

Bruce knows his ideas don't digest well, even among some fellow conservatives. He's been vilified as greedy, selfish, lacking in compassion. But he says it's the government that's greedy; all he's trying to do is keep the taxpayer from getting fleeced.

"My compassion is for the truck driver, the waitress, the janitor, the housepainter -- except for [former House speaker] Doug Dean," he says. "Government thinks it should be immune from the economic cycle. The whole point of TABOR is it should match the economic cycle and not expand when the private sector is contracting, because then it becomes a bigger part of the pie."

Big bail-out programs, from the New Deal to the Great Society, are a step down the road to some kind of collectivism, he says.

But wait. What about Governor Owens's economic-stimulus package -- $19 million for economic development grants and promotion of tourism and agriculture -- that received such a thunderous reception during his State of the State address?

Bruce chews this one over carefully. "It's clearly redistribution of wealth," he says. "It's taking money from our waitress to give it to some guy who owns a string of motels. Why shouldn't that business pay for its own advertising? I don't care if it's corporate welfare or welfare queens. Redistribution from the poor to the rich or from the rich to the poor is still stealing."

He munches on a cookie. "They're whining about a one-year decline in revenue, and I don't think that's too bad," he says. "But the government's attitude toward the taxpayer is, 'What's mine is mine, and what's yours is negotiable.'"

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast