By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
A senior budget advisor to Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper said his “door is open” to any suggestions to help improve Colorado’s cash-strapped budget.
Todd Saliman yesterday reiterated what economists have been saying for several years: a combination of three constitutional provisions has put the Colorado budget in a stranglehold. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) — which requires voter approval for any tax increase — Amendment 23 — which requires per-student funding for K-12 to be increased at a set rate each year — and the Gallagher Amendment — which limits residential property tax hikes — mixed with the economic downturn have created a “perfect storm” to slam Colorado’s budget, according to several economists.
“If we were to design a system from scratch, it would not simultaneously limit revenue and mandate spending,” Saliman said.
Saliman made his remarks at the Colorado Budget Summit (CBS), an open hearing that predominantly featured members from the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank. Speakers from the Independence Institute called for drastic reforms, including:
» Figuring out ways to decrease the amount of people in jail;
» Using a voucher system for higher education and not having Colorado universities provide dormitories, recreation centers or anything else that students can find outside a college campus;
» Repealing “ObamaCare.” Republican lawmakers warned that the health care reform could create a financial “tsunami” for Colorado in several years. Meanwhile, a non-partisan analysis of health care reform released yesterday found that repealing “ObamaCare” would add $230 billion to the U.S. deficit by 2021. GOP lawmakers doubted those numbers;
» Eliminating the Colorado Old Age Pension program, which provides $699 per month to qualifying low-income seniors in Colorado.
Saliman said while he appreciated the suggestions from the CBS speakers, he pointed out that many of the recommendations would require a vote of the people. Saliman predicted that the state and country are set for a slow recovery. He believes the state must deal in particular with K-12 education and Medicaid, which take up approximately 65 percent of the general fund.
Meanwhile, Colorado Senate Republicans held a separate roundtable with business leaders focused on streamlining business processes. The recommendations included expediting the permit processing time and replacing multiple local regulations with a single, statewide standard to reduce compliance costs.
But Saliman said that the bulk of challenges facing the state are long-standing structural problems, not issues that can be fixed by improving efficiencies.
The Republican Study Committee of Colorado (RSCC), a group of lawmakers whose goal is to formulate and advocate for legislative actions consistent with the “RSCC Declaration of Principles,” put on the CBS. RSCC member Rep. Glenn Vaad, R-Mead, said yesterday’s meeting was a useful tool to think out important issues with other lawmakers and scholars.
“I recently read how cynicism is the tool of lazy thinker,” he said. “This is a tool to defeat cynicism.”
In Colorado, several economists predict economic growth for the state in 2011. But any recovery comes after lawmakers have cut spending, reduce costs and close shortfalls of more than $5.2 billion since 2008.