Friday was the 45th day of the 120-day legislative session. However, it seemed more like the 100th. Committee hearings were going late, legislators and staff were looking tired and stressed, and civility was put to the test. That's what happens when bills are approaching deadlines to be heard and can't be postponed any longer while we are trying to get 35 bills through the Senate to balance the current (2008-2009) budget.
All of the budget-balancing measures, also referred to as Supplemental bills, passed out of the Senate and now are in the House. One of the amendments I sponsored along with Sens. Heath, Gibbs and Schwartz eliminated the proposed transfer of Limited Gaming Funds to the general fund. This will allow the gaming funds to be transferred at the end of this fiscal year to the four areas designated for funding by House Bill 1201, which passed in 2006.
The Governor's proposed budget amendment was diverting half of the gaming funds, and the Joint Budget Committee had reduced the diversion to a fourth of the funds. The largest recipient is the Colorado Tourism Office Board at nearly $21 million.
The other areas this amendment protects the funding for are the Council on the Arts, New Job Incentives and Film Incentives.
Tourism, and the tax revenue it produces, are important to the state. I don't think it is wise at this time to jeopardize future tax revenues by cutting our tourism promotion efforts. The return on investment is extremely high with approximately $150 of economic activity and $10-$20 of tax revenue generated for every dollar invested in tourism promotion.
Some areas where I had concerns didn't end up in the supplementals. The House and Senate Agriculture Committee sent letters to the Joint Budget Committee with our concerns about some of the proposals.
Fortunately, we were successful in getting the JBC to take a couple of the most onerous measures off the table, at least for the time being.
One of those was a transfer of $500,000 from the Brand Board Funds. Owners of brands pay an assessment on their brands every five years. These funds, along with inspection charges, have to fund the brand inspection program for the full five years. There is no General Fund support. The Brand Board also pays an overhead charge to help cover the costs of the Department of Agriculture. Transfer of these funds would have required an increase in inspection charges paid by producers. It isn't right to divert fees paid by producers for a specific purpose to balance the General Fund.
The JBC also removed a proposed cut in overtime paid to state water commissioners for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends June 30. Water commissioners typically put in extra hours in the spring because that is when the runoff occurs and water users are calling for their water, which causes most rivers to be under administration. It clearly isn't a 40-hour-per-week job.
I wasn't successful in the Senate in an effort to reduce the proposed increase in well permit fees. Most all categories of well permits will increase dramatically under this proposed supplemental. For example, a new well permit will go from $100 to $665.
I was attempting to limit the increase to no more than the actual costs incurred by the Division of Water Resources not to exceed a doubling of the fees.
Because of the short time frame in which I had to get the amendment done, the drafters and fiscal analysts were unable to get the information necessary to know what the actual costs were and I was having difficulty coming up with another source of funding to take the place of capping the permit fees. I met with Rep. Kathleen Curry, and she has a plan that hopefully will be successful in the House.
Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, represents the 6th District, which includes Durango, in the state Senate. Reach him at the Capitol by phone (303) 866-4884; by fax (303) 866-4543; or by e-mail at email@example.com.