Changes a comin' at Joint Budget Committee

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Depending on how the fall elections affect the make-up of the Colorado General Assembly, it’s possible that the Joint Budget Committee will have as many as four novice members for the 2011 legislative session. Under that scenario, only one member, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, would have much experience — with just two years on the committee.

JBC member Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton

This would come at a time when the state will likely have to cut at least $600 million in general funds from the 2011-12 budget, with half coming from K-12 and half from public colleges and universities. The $300 million cut to higher ed would represent more than half of the general fund support institutions currently receive.

In fact, when the JBC next convenes for summer business, it will be with three new members and maybe more.

The end of the 67th General Assembly also will mark the end of the JBC careers of current Chair Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder; Sens. Maryanne “Moe” Keller, D-Wheat Ridge; and Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo. All three are term-limited.

In addition, Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, a first-year member of the committee, is running for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, who chose not to run for re-election in the fall. Lambert caused consternation among his JBC colleagues when he voted against the Long Appropriations Bill when it was up for final House vote in April. He was a co-sponsor of HB 1376, voting to sponsor it in the JBC and in the House Appropriations Committee. Lambert is believed to be the first JBC member to ever vote against the annual budget bill.

JBC member Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen

Three new JBC members have already been appointed to replace Lambert, Tapia and Pommer. They are Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen; Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton; and Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, respectively. In order to take the JBC seat, Hodge had to give up her seat on and chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

In terms of legislative experience, Gerou and Hullinghorst are both finishing their first two-year terms at the capitol. Hodge is the more seasoned legislator; she is going into her third year as a senator and previously served eight years in the House.

Keller’s replacement on JBC has not yet been announced. Senate President Brandon Shaffer told The Colorado Statesman no decision about Keller’s replacement would be made until after the November elections, for two reasons. First, if Democrats maintain the majority, it will be up to the caucus for the 2011 session to make that decision, he said. More importantly, the JBC will benefit from Keller’s experience throughout the rest of the year. The JBC will have three revenue forecasts to review, beginning with the June 20 forecast, and during the interim they also will begin work on the 2011-12 budget, which is due from the governor on November 1. There are Democrats who are interested in taking Keller’s place next year, Shaffer said, but the only person he mentioned is Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.

Senate Republican leaders also have not made any announcement regarding the fate of Lambert, who is expected to easily win election to the Senate in the fall. He is unopposed in the August primary and no one of any party has filed to run against him for the General Election.

At issue is just who gets appointed in the Senate. If the Senate maintains Democratic control after the fall elections, Democrats will keep that second JBC seat. It’s a little more complicated for the Republicans. If they win the majority, they have the option to adding Lambert to the JBC, along with Sen. Al White, R-Hayden. If they don’t regain the majority, they may have to choose between White and Lambert. Republicans would have to take four of the seven Democrat-held seats up for election or re-election in order to gain the 18-seat majority.

At issue for some Republicans is unhappiness with White, in part because of his support for the budget bill and other JBC bills during the budget-setting process. No Senate Republicans voted for the 2010 long bill this year.

Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder

If Senate Republicans do not take the majority, they may need to consider who to put on JBC: White or Lambert.

On the other side of the aisle, if Senate Democrats maintain their majority, they not only get to chose another Democrat for the committee, but because of the alternate chair rule, one of the Senate Democrats will be the chair of JBC beginning in 2011. And that Democrat will be a JBC novice.

The new committee’s first job could be dealing with a $245 million cut in the 2010-11 budget. That money is at risk because of Congressional delays in approving an extension of expanded Medicaid coverage. The enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) is used to calculate how much states will be reimbursed for certain social services. The enhanced FMAP was set up through the American Recovery and Rehabilitation Act to help states with higher Medicaid costs as a result of the recession. Democrats were counting on FMAP dollars to shore up the state budget that goes into effect on July 1. If the extension fails, the JBC may have to find another $245 million to cut.

That same scenario, with four novice members, hinges on Democrats maintaining their control of the Senate after November. If Republicans don’t take control of the Senate in the fall, their representation on the JBC in 2011 may be decided by what they want more: experience or adherence to ideology. If he remains on the committee, White will be going into his fifth year on JBC; two years in the House and three in the Senate. That would make him the most senior member of the committee at a time when the JBC is losing three members with an aggregate 15 years of experience. Keller holds the title of longest time on the committee, with six years; Tapia with five and Pommer with four.

White, noting he would be the most senior member of the JBC next year with at least three novice members, told The Statesman he wants to stay on the committee. But it will depend on the will of the caucus, he said, explaining that he knows Lambert also wants to be on the JBC in 2011. If Republicans take the majority in the Senate, White said it shouldn’t be an issue. But if Democrats maintain control Republicans will have to decide between White and Lambert.

For his part, Lambert told The Statesman he was not “actively campaigning” for the JBC seat. “I will serve in whatever position has the best effect for the caucus,” he said. Lambert acknowledged he has an easy road to the November election, and said he would be working to help other candidates get elected in order to “make sure we have a strong caucus going into the next legislative session.” Lambert also said he did not think a decision about the JBC could be made “until we know the composition of the Senate and who people want [as their JBC representative].”

In an analysis of JBC membership dating back to the 1990 session, few members of the JBC are on the committee for more than four years, especially after the advent of term limits, which were adopted by voters in the fall 1990 election. The committee has had 37 different members during that 20-year span, with 16 who have been on JBC for four years or more. Only one person in the last decade has been on JBC for more than six years: Sen. Dave Owen, R-Greeley, who was on the committee for 14 years until he was forced out by term limits in 2006. But seven members of the JBC have sat on the committee for only one or two years.

Only once in the 20-year review has there been turnover akin to what will happen in 2011. In 1999, the JBC got four new members, including all three of its House members. But the state’s finances were in a very different place that year. The state had $569 million in TABOR refunds to hand out to taxpayers, based on 1997-98 surpluses. Legislators passed, at the request of then-Gov. Bill Owens, a reduction in the state sales tax, and they also passed a half-dozen tax exemptions, some that were repealed earlier this year. And because the Public Employees’ Retirement Association was near 100 percent full funding, legislators also approved legislation allowing PERA to sell service credit to its public employee-members at rock-bottom prices.

Pommer told The Statesman that the process of learning the ropes on JBC doesn’t take long, since the JBC staff guide new members through it. New members will pick things up on pretty quickly, he said, especially if they’ve been paying attention in the past. What matters is the knowledge of what departments are doing and what they’ve requested in the past. Some departments have staff who have been in those departments for many years, and it’s hard for legislators to match that kind of experience, Pommer explained.

White said this week that there is a “large value” to having more than a year’s experience on the JBC. He cited a number of very complicated state programs, especially those under the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health Care Policy and Finance. “Understanding those programs, what they do and the efficacy of those programs takes time,” he said.

The committee and the state are both better served with experience than with “virtually all novices,” White said.

As to the value of experience, Shaffer said the implementation of term limits is really showing this year. “You look at term limits and the long-term ramifications,” he said, and “we’re at that point now where we don’t have many experienced legislators. The same is true for JBC.” Shaffer said that going forward, it is fortunate that the JBC has White’s four years of experience.

However, Pommer said that what the JBC lacks, and will forever lack, are members who’ve spent an “extraordinarily long time” on the committee, which in the era of term limits means five or six years. Those with that kind of experience have better perspectives than those who are on the committee for only a year or two, he said. He noted Owen was a “wealth of information” regarding the issues for which the JBC is responsible. And without that experience, Pommer said, power and responsibility end up in the hands of the staff or the capitol’s lobbyists.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com