DENVER – House Republicans moved to cut the state budget by another $200 million Tuesday, a move that Democrats said was arbitrary and could end up hurting schools.
Republicans argued that the Legislature should set a lower target for spending because forecasts that predict how much money the state will have at the end of the year often turn out to be wrong.
The Legislature already has to pare next year’s budget by at least $1 billion.
“The fact is these forecast numbers are not an exact science,” said Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland. “If you go back over the last decade, we are consistently not hitting the mark.”
DelGrosso’s House Joint Resolution 7 is basically symbolic because the Legislature will pass the actual budget in April. But if Republican members of the budget committee take it to heart, they could insist on a additional $200 million in cuts.
So Democrats put up a fight against the plan Tuesday morning in the House.
“If we take this resolution seriously, we will inflict needless pain on K-12 education and perhaps higher education,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
DelGrosso’s resolution would lower the budget by 2.75 percent from the latest prediction by the Legislature’s economists, which they made in December.
The Legislature passes a similar budget resolution every year, but it usually does not get much attention.
An analysis of the budget resolutions since 1997 shows they are off by an average of plus or minus 9 percent from the actual revenue the state collects. But the errors are greatest during the peak of an economic boom, when the resolutions underestimate revenue, and the depths of a recession, when they are too optimistic.
In three of the four recession years since 2002, the Legislature overshot by at least 17 percent in its budget resolutions and later had to make cuts.
But excluding the recession years of 2002-03 and 2009-10, the resolutions actually underestimated revenue by 6 percent.
Economists from the Legislature and the University of Colorado expect a slow recovery this year, with little job growth, but they don’t expect things to get much worse.
The economic forecasts tend to be most accurate at the turning point of an economy, like this year, said Natalie Mullis, the Legislature’s chief economist.
But DelGrosso thinks it’s prudent to hold some money in reserve in case of a calamity like another major terrorist attack or a banking crisis.
“There’s always a chance of something happening. You can never predict,” DelGrosso said.
It’s a lot easier to spend extra money at the end of the year than figure out what to cut when there isn’t enough money, he said.
Six Democrats joined all 33 Republicans to support DelGrosso’s plan, which passed the House. It faces shakier prospects in the Senate, where Democrats have the majority.
Some Democrats derided the resolution as meaningless, because the forecast numbers will change again in March.
“Vote however you want on this because at the end of the day it does nothing to balance the budget,” said Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.
But his colleague on the budget committee, Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, said it had value.
“This is not binding, but it sends a message to the people of Colorado that we understand what they’re going through,” Gerou said.