We're heading into the third week of the session, and already it's a year much different than the others. The obvious concern for me, and many others, is the budget. The unavoidable backdrop behind every bill in this troubled economy is its cost.As a member of the Finance Committee, we were briefed by the Joint Budget Committee last week, and the news is not good. We're facing a budget shortfall of at least $600 million. We won't know the exact amount until mid-March, but in the meantime, we need to decide how and where to cut the budget. The window of time to put the cuts in place shrinks daily with a fiscal year end in June.
And that's not getting to what lies ahead for next year's budget that we must come up with, which will be hit even harder because of losses in state revenue.
Wow, this column is really a downer, isn't it? Those of you who know me know that I am an optimist. I'll look for the positives in a situation as hard as possible. But, I'm also a realist, and it's critical to be straight with you about the condition of your government.
The first couple of weeks of this session have shown me the Legislature can't, and shouldn't, shield Coloradans from the many difficult decisions facing us.
The "us" I am referring to is not the legislators, but the people of Colorado. As at the national level, we can't go on with the status quo. The state doesn't print money, and we have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget yearly.
Blaming others is of little value. Many differing answers are slung around, and while introspection is valuable for learning from past mistakes and to hold people and practices accountable, at the end of the day, we are where we are. Moving forward is where I choose to put my thoughts and energy, and I'd suggest we'd be better off if we all try to row the boat in that direction.
Practically the only funding mechanism left at our state's disposal, other than to ask for a statewide vote on a tax increase, is raising fees. Whether it's raising fees on hospitals to mitigate the cost of care of the uninsured and underinsured or raising vehicle registration fees for emergency medical services, law enforcement training or keeping our roads safe for those traveling them, these are just a few of the choices in front of the Legislature right now.
Where do you fit in? As a citizen and taxpayer of Colorado, you have a stake in the decisions we make. Quite simply, you have a choice. You can get involved and help define the core mission(s) of state government. It's time to reflect on that to come up with definitions that fit us in today's global economy.
If state government is reduced to nearly nothing, what roles have the federal government taken over, and is that a good thing? Or, your other choice is to wait until later to complain that the politicians are wrong, stupid, crooked and never ask for your opinion.
The founding fathers lived in an entirely different time and place in history. But, the gift they gave us that withstands the changes of the centuries is the ability of our people to be involved in the government they set up long ago.
It's not easy or fun to spend time thinking about these things, especially when you're pinched yourself by many of these challenges and problems. But that's a sacrifice you need to make if you want to help set the course for this and future generations.
You, your family, friends and businesses will live with the consequences of governmental budget decisions, which translate into priority setting for our communities and state, as a whole.
Your choice. Which will it be?
Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, represents the 59th District in the state House of Representatives. Reach her by phone at the Capitol, (303) 866-2914; fax (303) 866-2218; home phone 259-1589 or through her Web site, firstname.lastname@example.org.