Budget heads to state House for approval by representatives | SummitDaily.com

Budget heads to state House for approval by representatives

DENVER – State senators approved the 2003-04 budget Tuesday, complete with $1 billion in cuts in response to the weak economy.

Four senators – Doug Lindhard, D-Denver, Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, Ron May, R-Colorado Springs and Terry Phillips, D-Louisville – voted against the $13.4 billion budget.

Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, said the cuts legislators were forced to make will leave the state worse off than ever, but she cast her vote in favor of the budget.

“What we are doing to future generations of Coloradans is not what Colorado is about,” she said. “I was troubled that all the cuts that got through committee seemed to be cut from one part of society. This will decimate families and the most fragile members of society. It just seems crazy. I wanted to see a balanced package. Everyone’s part of the state; everyone should be part of the pain.”

Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville, got his first glimpse of the budget Thursday.

The budget paring legislators faced was exacerbated by state and federal laws that don’t allow cuts to Medicaid and K-12 education.

The budget cuts included about 600 layoffs, salary freezes and cuts to numerous departments. The state cut $229 million from higher education and eliminated the Homestead Exemption to save an additional $55 million.

The Senate will introduce two bills this week that will generate $28.5 million by reducing the fee retailers keep for collecting state sales taxes. Another would transfer $9.5 million from the Highway Users Tax Fund into the state’s general account.

Twenty-five amendments were added to the 693-page document, but senators approved only six. One will take $2.5 million from the governor’s $10 million tourism budget and divert it to the Older Coloradans programs, including Meals on Wheels.

A second amendment will take $100,000 from prison libraries and funnel it to the Colorado Council for the Arts. Originally, legislators proposed eliminating funding to the council altogether, which would have made Colorado the only state in the nation without an arts council. The $100,000, however, isn’t enough to qualify the council for matching federal funds from the National Endowment of the Arts.

Joint Budget Committee member and Senate President John Andrews said legislators should be commended for the hard work they’ve done to balance the budget. But Fitz-

Gerald said many cuts were disproportionate.

She said the budget cuts destroy Colorado’s university system and take funds from the sick, elderly and infirm. She cited a $12 fee Medicaid patients are required to pay to receive benefits, and the legislative vote that killed a bill requiring gun owners to pay $10 for their background checks.

Additionally, the Senate agreed to securitize tobacco settlement funds, selling $530 million worth of future payments for a lump some of $260 million today.

Senators said they are concerned about threats from Philip Morris officials, who say their company will go bankrupt if they are forced to post a $12 billion bond an Illinois judge is demanding of them. The tobacco company was found guilty for advertising that “light” cigarettes were healthier than regular cigarettes; the judge ordered the company to pay $10 billion in the class-action suit.

The judge said the company must post a $12 billion bond – the amount of the fine plus interest it would accrue during the appeal – but Philip Morris officials say they don’t have the money. Additionally, they said, if the company is forced to post the bond, it might not have enough funds to distribute to the various states who won lawsuits over the company in 1998. The tobacco company owes Colorado $2.6 billion over a 25-year period.

The uncertainty regarding the bond has state officials worried that there might not be a market in which to sell the tobacco money, Fitz-Gerald said.

Additionally, she believes the 6.2 percent revenue increase projection is “far too rosy” and will force legislators to find more money in a special session later this year.

“Everybody down here’s having a sanity check; there’s nothing happy going on,” she said. “Every time we turn around, projections get worse. We keep chipping away at the fabric of the state. We’re not leaving it in a better place.”

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