State treasurer predicts slow economic recovery
SILVERTHORNE – State Treasurer Mike Coffman said he is disgusted with the Legislature’s accounting gimmicks in crafting a balanced budget, and he would like to untangle the web of constitutional amendments that ties the Legislature’s hands.
Three constitutional amendments – the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, the Gallagher amendment and Amendment 23 – either prevent legislators from implementing taxes or require them to increase spending for primary education. Combined with declining revenue, legislators have been hard-pressed to write a balanced budget.
“Colorado desperately needs reform in the budget process,” Coffman told about 100 Summit County Republicans at a Lincoln Day fundraising dinner Saturday at the Silverthorne Elks Lodge.
“The Legislature has increased fees, raided trust funds – that has to have an effect in the long run. It’s deferring making the difficult decisions. I’m very upset about what’s going on,” Coffman said.
The Legislature is in the final days of writing a balanced budget that has so far taken huge cuts from programs and departments statewide.
To balance the budget – required by the state constitution – legislators have gutted social and higher education budgets, transferred money from fee-based funds and used money from the tobacco settlement fund to fill in the gaps.
Critics have said these measures are short-term solutions that will affect future budgets adversely.
The Republican said unless voters initiate and approve ballot questions to loosen the mandates behind the constitutional amendments or approve tax hikes, he believes people will see higher fees to make up for department shortfalls. That, he said, has the same impact as a tax increase.
Legislators’ hands are tied, however, when it comes to making those cuts because 42 percent of the budget goes to K-12 education and 20 percent is designated for Medicaid – neither of which can be cut. Legislators can make cuts only to the remaining 38 percent.
“Higher education in Colorado is on a collision course for zero funding from the state,” Coffman said. “In terms of economic development, that doesn’t work.”
Earlier in the session, Coffman presented a bill that would divert half of the state’s historical preservation money, garnered from gambling taxes at Colorado casinos, to fund tourism. He believes tourism is vital to the state’s overall economic health.
“We need to find a stable source of funding for both tourism and historic preservation,” he said, noting that Colorado spends more money on historic preservation than any other state in the nation. “There’s room to work on this.”
Another concern of his is that Colorado doesn’t have a “rainy day” fund to help during difficult economic times.
“We need to save in good times so we don’t have to resort to the kinds of practices we’re seeing now in bad times,” he said. “The net result of what they’ve done is significantly increase taxes on the people of Colorado at a time they can’t afford them.”
And he predicts a “very, very slow” economic recovery statewide.
“We rode that bubble through the 1990s, but it popped in the last half of 2000,” he said. “It’s had a tremendous effect on the economy. I think we’ve bottomed out. But I think it’ll be a very slow recovery.”
Incumbent Gov. Bill Owens stepped from the treasurer’s office to the governor’s mansion in 1998, and many believe Coffman will try to follow suit when Owens’ second term expires in 2006.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
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