Divided caucuses in legislature blame each other for state budget woes

By Anthony Bowe

Democratic legislators, tired of being scorned for budget balancing decisions by their conservative counterparts, say Republicans offer nothing but empty rhetoric, according to Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.

Ferrandino, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, challenged Republicans at a news conference Thursday to produce specific solutions to balance the state’s budget, which faces a $248 million shortfall this year and $1.1 billion next year. The Denver Democrat then hand delivered a copy of the 2010 budget, an appropriations report and a letter to the office of Senate Minority leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, asking Republicans to identify which programs the JBC should cut.

“I think it’s fair for people to understand what they would do if they had the power to be able to balance the budget,” Ferrandino said. “We’re getting yelled at for our decisions, but over the last three years we’ve balanced with Gov. (Bill) Ritter a $4.4 billion shortfall, we’ve made the difficult choices — not always the popular choices.”

Ferrandino’s comments were in response to a policy outline laid out by the Republicans on Sept. 29 called the Agenda to Reform and Restrain Government. Ferrandino said he was annoyed by the opposing party’s rhetoric that he said is short on specifics.

The plan proposes eliminating nonessential government programs, instituting a hiring freeze on government jobs until the budget is met, limiting government spending increases, requiring a two-thirds vote to extend sunset legislation, reducing the state’s reliance on federal funding, and creating a “meaningful” Rainy Day Fund.

Republicans responded to Ferrandino with a counter press release immediately afterwards, asking Democrats to reveal “which taxes they intend to increase for the 2011 legislative session.”

“We really don’t need to see their ideas on paper; we’ve seen them in action for the past four years. All of their ideas resulted in increased taxes and fees creating higher unemployment — except for government bureaucrats,” Kopp said. “It’s time we offer Colorado families a new direction. We cannot continue the same failed policies and hope for a different result. This is why Senate Republicans are excited to offer an alternative vision of limited government, lower taxes and reduced spending.”

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, added, “Rather than being open and honest about their intentions, Democrats have instead chosen to attack Senate Republican reform proposals. I challenge Senate Democrats to offer up a new direction for Colorado — one that doesn’t kill jobs and run industries out of the state.”

Ferrandino’s letter to Kopp asks the minority leader to submit the nonessential programs Republicans want to cut to the JBC by Oct. 25. The JBC meets for the first time Nov. 10 as it begins work on this and next year’s budget.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, said he sent a letter to Kopp in June pleading for bipartisan cooperation in the coming session. Kopp still hasn’t responded, he said.

“The people of Colorado are tired of politics as usual. Partisan bickering, finger pointing, and campaign rhetoric helps nobody,” Shaffer said. “I ask Senators Kopp and Brophy to join me in creating a different type of legislature as we head into the 2011 session: one that is functional, collaborative, and productive for the people of Colorado."

No government programs or tax incentives are safe heading into the 2011 legislative session, Ferrandino said. Higher education and K-12 education may take additional cuts and severance tax funds could be reallocated when lawmakers balance the budget, Ferrandino warned.

“When you’re looking at a budget shortfall of $1 billion out of a $7 billion budget, you need to keep everything on the table. But you need real solutions that go toward general fund impact,” he said.