Dire straits ahead without budget fix
FRISCO – With drastic cuts to the state’s higher education system and health care services looming on the horizon, Summit County’s Democratic representatives at the Capitol are promoting a bipartisan fiscal fix through town-to-town public meetings in hopes that citizens will be able to convince the governor and fellow Republican legislators to join the budget bandwagon.Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald (D-Golden), the Senate Majority Leader, and Rep. Gary Lindstrom (D-Breckenridge) spoke to nearly 30 concerned citizens Saturday at the Summit County Community and Senior Center. The lawmakers are making stops throughout Front Range and Western Slope communities in what they’ve dubbed the “Dome on the Range Tour,” to explain a budget bill currently under consideration in the House.The Colorado Economic Recovery Act (House Bill 1194), written by House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver), proposes to reduce Colorado’s income tax rate, cap government growth and use the resulting excess money to reinvest in state programs and services that have suffered since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks pushed the state into a recession.
A confluence of economic and legislative factors have slashed Colorado’s budget and forced elected officials to raid special cash reserves to meet obligations in the general fund. Reduced revenues – a function of the downturn in the economy – have been compounded by spending restrictions in state statutes. The Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) and Amendment 23, a voter-approved measure that guarantees increases in school funding, have eliminated any possible increases in state spending and have restricted the government’s ability to return spending to prior levels now that Colorado’s economy is on the rebound.”We need to recover those lost revenues to get back on board,” Lindstrom told the crowd Saturday. “We’ve been paying our MasterCard with our Visa.”Romanoff’s bill, to which four Republican state senators have already signed on as supporters, was approved by the House Appropriations Committee Friday and is expected to reach the full House Monday for a second reading.In specific terms, the bill would cut the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent. The bill would also turn back the clock, so to speak, setting government spending levels to the limit reached in 2000; spending levels have since dropped and the TABOR-imposed restrictions on government growth would not normally allow the state to do this. These excess funds would allow legislators to attack an estimated $103 billion funding gap in transportation projects and $43 billion shortfall in school construction money.
The bottom line for taxpayers, Fitz-Gerald and Lindstrom said Saturday, is that while refund checks from the state would disappear, taxpayers’ burden would be reduced at the same time the state was able to balance the books.”You see less tax while we see more collections at the state,” Fitz-Gerald said. Fitz-Gerald didn’t mince words in explaining the severe consequences of a political stalemate on the budget issue. She warned that higher education and Medicare, which together account for nearly 90 percent of the state’s budget, would get the axe without some fiscal solution. Fitz-Gerald went so far as to say that Colorado “would become a Third World nation pretty quickly” without passage of the proposal.
If such cuts were enacted, Summit County might feel it where it hurts most, said Sheriff John Minor, addressing the legislators. Higher education cuts would hit community and state colleges that provide the training and education for police officers, firefighters and paramedics. “We’ll be in a bind finding qualified people,” Minor said.”Right now we need you to help us convince the governor this isn’t an extravagant plan,” Fitz-Gerald said. “It just helps pay the bills. This is the responsible thing to do.” Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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