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Dems predict more spending cuts

BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County’s two representatives to the Colorado General Assembly predict the budget bloodbath is hardly over because revenue growth predictions are false.

Both state Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Jefferson County and state Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville believe a special session will be called by the month’s end to cut more spending.

In the just-concluded session, legislators axed $850 million from the budget that ends June 30 and $870 million from the new budget that’s effective July 1.



The new budget is based on 6.1 percent revenue growth.

“That’s not going to happen,” Miller said. Fitz-Gerald called the prediction a “fiction.”



Both Miller and Fitz-Gerald, the Democratic Senate minority leader, offered their views to a gathering of the local Mayors, Managers and Commissioners group.

Miller said state employees get a raise in the new budget because Colorado is one of two states with that mandate in its constitution, dating from 1913.

While opposing the idea of job cuts because he knows what that was like – he lost his job after 27 years underground when the Climax Molybdenum Mine closed – Miller said employees still need to “share in the burden.”

Miller said “a half-dozen unpaid furlough days would save millions” spread across the state’s 45,000 to 47,000 employees.

Miller, who voted against the new budget as a protest, noted how an essential service was cut with the closing of 22 of drivers licenses offices statewide.

The fallacy of that cut, he said, is that the employees did not lose jobs.

“They were found jobs elsewhere, so we cut a service to the people we represent and still have the employees. That is wrong,” Miller said.

Summit County kept its Division of Motor Vehicles office at the County Commons, but Eagle County lost its Avon office, forcing residents to drive to Garfield, Lake or Summit counties for drivers licenses and vehicle registration matters.

Fitz-Gerald said budget-cutters on the Joint Budget Committee exhausted by their work made up the 6.1 percent growth figure as a “wait-and-see” tactic. The Jefferson County resident said 1.5 percent would be an accurate projection.

Fitz-Gerald said she voted for the budget but apologized for its effects.

She especially lamented cuts to higher education, calling them “absolutely horrifying” and a threat to the state’s future.

“(Colleges and universities) are vehicles for people to be upwardly mobile in our society,” Fitz-Gerald said. “When we don’t fund them, we take a big part of the American dream and throw it away.”

She saluted University of Colorado president Elizabeth Hoffman as “unsung” for her efforts to raise $1 billion for CU.

“But the impact is we don’t have state funds to match it,” Fitz-Gerald said.

She also offered some hope in the Legislature’s support of the new Fitzsimons medical research project planned for the old Army hospital site in Denver. She said the project could elevate metro Denver to par with the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill “Research Triangle” in North Carolina.

Colorado’s budget woes are complicated by the fact the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) constitutional amendment passed in 1992 does not allow recovery from spending cuts when the economy turns around.

Each new budget becomes a baseline, limiting growth in spending for the next year to no more than about 6 percent growth.

Fitz-Gerald said it will take 20 years for some programs to rebuild to 2002-03 levels. This “ratcheting down” aspect of the TABOR amendment is under study for possible reform at the ballot box.

Fitz-Gerald said that under current politics, she doesn’t see much hope for reform.

She said Gov. Bill Owens, Republican and two “die-hards,” Senate Majority Leader John Andrews and key House member Keith King, like shrinking the government.

Fitz-Gerald quoted Owens as hoping to export TABOR to other states.

Because of this political philosophy, Fitz-Gerald doesn’t expect a legislative summer committee planning to study the state’s tax structure to come up with much.

Jim Pokrandt can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 227, or jpokrandt@summitdaily.com.


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