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Ritter Presents Budget To JBC, Encourages Keeping ‘Open Mind’

STATE BILL COLORADO

A term-limited Gov. Bill Ritter on Wednesday presented his final budget to the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, encouraging committee members to approach this coming budget cycle “with an open mind.”

“There was a lot of rhetoric during the recent campaigns, but when it comes to budgeting, everything must be on the table and the political posturing must come to an end,” the Democratic governor told JBC members.

In prepared remarks, Ritter began first with education. He said the executive branch was doing “everything we can to minimize impacts to K-12 education” and “everything we can to shield higher-ed from deep and painful cuts. …However, we must acknowledge that higher-ed will lose Recovery Act funding in 11-12.”

Some Republicans, critical of Ritter’s unwillingness to make sweeping cuts to the bureaucracy, are lobbying Gov.-Elect John Hickenlooper to radically adjust the budget, or to start over.

Ritter submitted his budget proposal on Election Day, Nov. 2.

The full text of Ritter’s remarks are published below.

Chairwoman Hodge, members of the Committee, and other members of the General Assembly, good morning. Today I am presenting you with my Fiscal Year 2011-12 budget proposal.

Thank you for allowing me and Budget Director Todd Saliman to review the budget with you and answer any questions you may have. This, as you know, is my final presentation to you as Governor. I’d like to take a moment to thank the JBC staff for all their hard work these past four years, and particularly the past two years as they have dealt with multiple budget-balancing plans. I also want to thank Todd, Deputy Budget Director Lisa Esgar, their staff and the budget staffs in all of our departments.

They have served the people of Colorado with distinction and with calm, steady hands during an extremely volatile recession. I also want to thank you, the members of the JBC and the full General Assembly. While we have cut spending and closed shortfalls well into the billions, you face even more tough choices and painful decisions in the months ahead.

I know you will scrutinize this budget proposal closely, as well you should. I also urge you to approach this budget cycle with an open mind. There was a lot of rhetoric during the recent campaigns, but when it comes to budgeting, everything must be on the table and the political posturing must come to an end. So, examine things like the cash-fund transfers or other revenue-related parts of our budget request, and be open to program cuts we haven’t had to consider up to this point, because in the final analysis, this is about balancing the budget, maintaining essential services and preserving the safety net as best we can.

This is about finding common ground, forging bipartisan solutions and doing what’s best for Colorado. If ever there was a place where Mario Cuomo’s famous line about campaigning in poetry and governing in prose was true, it is here, with you, with this budget.

This is a balanced budget. It is a fiscally responsible budget, and it is a budget that continues to move Colorado forward on the road to recovery by investing in priority areas we value and care about the most – public safety, education, economic development, healthcare and transportation:

· We are doing everything we can to minimize impacts to K-12 education. This proposal increases classroom funding by $43 million, and while that is not enough to cover enrollment and other cost increases, K-12 funding has actually gone up 7 percent since FY07-08 and now makes up almost half of the General Fund budget.

· We are doing everything we can to shield higher-ed from deep and painful cuts, and this proposal preserves the current level of state support for higher-ed. However, we must acknowledge that higher-ed will lose Recovery Act funding in 11-12.

A few other notable investments in the FY11-12 proposal:

· In our prisons, we are actually seeing a decline in the number of inmates, and this proposal continues to invest in anti-recidivism programs, because they are working.

· I am proposing new resources to cover the increasing need for emergency placements for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

· And I am proposing that we keep all of this state’s driver’s license offices open and serving the public.

All of that said, the road to recovery will not be straight. Revenues are rising, but not fast enough to keep up with mandatory healthcare, human service and education cost increases. So this budget proposal continues many of the same tough, unpopular and unenviable decisions we’ve been making for two years now. This budget continues to spread the burden, the pain and the solutions among state employees, senior citizens, schools, people who use our parks, retail customers, Medicaid clients, businesses and more.

As difficult as these decisions are, our strategies the past two years are working. How do we know that? One measure is that our credit rating has remained strong. Another – Colorado remains one of the best states in the country for businesses, and our unemployment rate has stayed well below the national average. We have minimized pain, made government more efficient and have served as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.

In concluding my final JBC message, let me suggest that the most important thing Colorado needs as you develop a balanced budget is civil, thoughtful, and rigorous debate. A debate that is respectful of different positions; a debate that sets politics and partisanship aside; a debate that insists that all proposals to reduce revenue or increase spending has an equal and off-setting increase in revenue or decrease in expenses.

Budgets are moral documents and they are investments in our vision for the future of the state. With that in mind, we owe nothing less to the citizens of Colorado than civil, thoughtful and rigorous debate. During these final two months of my administration, I remain at your disposal to assist with the hard work of keeping the budget balance

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