Act 1 of the budget drama in the Colorado Senate is over, with the final reading of the budget bills scheduled for early this week. Assuming they pass, the bills then will head to the House for consideration, debate and passage there. If amended, they will return to the Senate.
Its probably confusing that the states budget is being debated at the same time that theres much media attention on the federal budget bill. The federal bill is way behind schedule, while the states budget normally is handled now for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. The federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1. Neither of these match a calendar year, so theres good reason to be confused.
Whats also different between our two budgets is the magnitude of the dollars involved, although its still daunting to be dealing with millions and billions of taxpayer dollars rather than the trillions at stake at the federal level. The most notable difference between the state and federal budget process, though, is Colorados requirement for a balanced budget.
To get to a balanced budget, given the current economy, Colorado cant avoid cuts to education, roads, health care and many other services. Ive long maintained that setting the budget is the single most important task before the state Legislature, and were faced with many hard, but inevitable, choices.
Before the ink was dry on this years first draft of the budget, emails and phone messages to all legislators were flooding in with pleas to spare cuts to many areas of the state budget. The members of the Joint Budget Committee have been working on the proposed bills for months, and theyve got their work cut out for them as fellow legislators try to amend the bills in any number of ways to save their preferred programs.
But with few exceptions, the senators on the JBC held their ground on their proposals. Leadership from both sides of the aisle had considerable input to the original proposals, and the Senate Republican caucus spent many hours discussing what was needed in the bills that we could vote for to achieve the goals of a balanced budget and putting Coloradans back to work.
Ive made it no secret either in these columns or at the Capitol that I feel were not truly balancing the budget when we transfer severance tax money to fill budget holes. Yet there will be real and difficult consequences to the cuts we must make even with the severance-tax transfer. This financial hole were in will take years to climb out of, but as we do that, Ill continue to argue for true budget-balancing measures that are not disproportionately burdensome to the less-populated areas of the state.
As the long bill and other budget-related measures work their way through the House committees, floor debates and votes, the Senate will return to the bills remaining before us. This hasnt been an easy session, but no one couldve reasonably expected otherwise.
Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorados General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.