Dear Gov. Ritter,
The latest quarterly forecast released this week by legislative economists — pointing to another $240 million in cuts to this year’s state budget alone — is, of course, troubling. Perhaps even more troubling, however, is your response. Frankly, you seem to be in denial. In fact, almost since the first warning signs of the current, crippling recession nearly two years ago, you and your administration have persistently attempted to soft-pedal the crisis.
Quarter after quarter, forecast after forecast, your office’s budget staff has sought to paint a far rosier revenue picture than the realistic assessment provided by the Legislature’s nonpartisan staff. As a result, your administration has low-balled successive state spending deficits by hundreds of millions of dollars at a time. On the latest forecast, your numbers are off by nearly half a billion dollars!
Governor, the citizens of Colorado did not elect you to be cheerleader-in-chief. The taxpaying public is entitled to a frank assessment of the challenges that face us. Taxpayers also expect their chief executive to set sound priorities in reducing the spending that, amid plummeting revenue, has helped get us all into this bind. The public wants you to take meaningful, substantial steps to reduce spending in areas that do not rate a high priority while maintaining truly essential services that fundamentally affect considerations like public health and safety. In other words, cull the wheat from the chaff.
Unfortunately, governor, your administration has displayed no such inclination.
For example, your decision to make thousands of inmates eligible for early release — including violent predators — to spare $19 million out of a nearly $19 billion budget simply makes no sense. Among the state’s truly essential functions is keeping our communities safe from marauding criminals. And any talk in your office or the Legislature of further extending the suspension of the property tax exemption for our state’s seniors — one of our most vulnerable population groups — would be another assault on the limited resources of those who can least afford to give anymore.
At the same time, your spending reductions on the state bureaucracy have been timid. You talk bravely of furloughing state employees when thousands and thousands of private-sector jobs have been eliminated for good by this recession. Indeed, more than 4,000 jobs have been added to the state bureaucracy under your watch, and the administrative “front office” staff of your cabinet agencies have in themselves, grown substantially. Isn’t it about time to do some serious, permanent paring of your bureaucracy?
Governor, we’ve all had enough of your “surgical” cuts and budgetary gimmicks — like robbing cash funds and hiking fees. It is time for resolute action, for demonstrating that you know the difference between essential services and nice-to-have extras.
It is also time to reach out to religious congregations and private charitable organizations to see how they can help bridge the gaps in some state services brought on by budget shortfall. It is, after all, such organizations that historically have provided a real safety net for so many of our less fortunate citizens. It is well past time for the state to stop usurping the fundamental role that religion and charity have played in uplifting those in need.
In your remarks released to the public Monday, you promised you “will balance the budget just like we’ve been doing for the past year.” Governor, that’s what I’m afraid of. Certainly, you and the General Assembly will balance the budget; that’s required by law. What I am asking you now is that you do it wisely.
Sen. Dave Schultheis