Fitz-Gerald dismayed by budget |

Fitz-Gerald dismayed by budget

DENVER – Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, who represents Summit County at the state Legislature, said she likes nothing about the $5.5 billion state budget the Joint Budget Committee introduced Monday.

“It’s pretty bad,” she said. “We have a dispute going whether we should cut revenue estimates. If we don’t cut them now, we’ll have to come back later and make deep cuts. We have to make some very painful decisions: things like student loan funding – libraries are taking a terrible, terrible hit. Those are the things that are the great equalizers in our society, things that let people become all they dream of being. I think we’re going into the downward cycle of the budget.”

The Senate will review and make amendments to the 2003-2004 budget before sending it to the House of Representatives April 7. Legislators there will make their changes, and the two sides of the State Assembly will vote to approve it. If they cannot come to an agreement – which is often the case – the so-called Long Bill will be sent into a conference committee for more analysis.

Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville, said he won’t see the budget until next week.

Monday, the Senate debated whether it should cut revenue estimates. The Joint Budget Committee (JBC), which crafted the budget under review, is projecting a 6.2 percent increase in revenue next fiscal year. The fiscal year begins July 1. Fitz-Gerald and other Democrats think that is unrealistic in light of the fact the United States is operating in a war-time economy.

“We ask the economists if there is any sector that’s improving, and they say nothing’s getting better, but we’ve been down so long, they assume it’s going to go up,” Fitz-Gerald said. “I think we should be much more conservative. If we don’t cut (revenue expectations) now, we’ll have to come back later and make deep cuts. Even if we go to a 4 percent revenue projection, we’ll have to cut an additional $114 million, if things don’t improve.”

Numerous cuts are proposed in the budget already, including funding for student loans and libraries.

“There are many cuts being made to the poorest to the poor,” Fitz-Gerald said.

The Senate, over the objections of Democrats, passed a bill Monday that requires those receiving public assistance by electronic means pay $1 each month for the service.

“They don’t have a choice,” Fitz-Gerald said. “They don’t get (the assistance) any other way. And when you’re getting a check for under $350, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Fitz-Gerald also isn’t impressed by Gov. Owens’ proposed economic stimulus package. The $19 million package originally included $10 million for tourism, but last week the JBC axed all those funds – then reinstated $9 million late Friday.

She thinks the governor should do more of what other governors are doing.

“There are governors working on trade promotion, governors working to get international flights to their towns, governors doing shovel-ready industrial sites to attract businesses, and governors doing partnerships with universities and high-tech development,” she said. “I think there are governors out there who are hustling, and if we’re just saying we have a war going so we need to increase tourism, we’ll be put at a disadvantage. Others are looking to get lost jobs back to their state.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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