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A new road to recovery

Senate Bill 209 is colloquially referred to as “The Long Bill” because of its length and the span of time it usually takes to debate.This year was no exception. The Long Bill – the state’s budget plan – weighed in this year at 10 pounds, 675 pages and took over 10 hours for the House to finally approve. Despite some painful groans, long sighs, and contentious debate, the discussion over our state’s budget was time well spent.This year’s budget reflects our priorities as Democrats, and I believe it’s truly something Coloradans can take pride in. Making health care affordable and creating a top-notch education system took the lion’s share of focus and energy. The big three expenditures this year are K-12 education at $3.6 billion, health care at $3.3 billion and higher education at $600 million.Despite an especially lean budget, we were able to secure investments in all of these areas. We also rejuvenated our state’s education fund, a savings account set aside for public education. The fund would have gone bankrupt in the next two years. Strengthening our education system will be one of the most important keys in delivering a Colorado comeback.We asked dozens of the state’s top business leaders this year how we can help jump-start the economy, and nearly all of them mentioned three things – a modern transportation network, a low tax rate and an educated workforce. This budget delivers on all of our priorities.Let’s start with education. By increasing and protecting funding for public education, we’re making a commitment to the future success of our state. A skilled workforce will help us deliver qualified applicants to the doors of Colorado’s businesses. It also lowers taxes. This is a conservative budget that holds the line on taxes.A solvent education fund also shows we’re committed to fiscal responsibility. In 2006, state spending will be 22 percent lower than in any year in the ’80s or ’90s as a share of the economy. In addition, our state currently maintains the lowest state tax burden in the nation and also possesses one of the lowest flat tax rates in the nation.It’s not in our budget, but we recently introduced a financing referendum that will help fix our state’s roads and bridges. This financing measure, which will be put before voters in November, will help us address a massive transportation funding gap to improve traffic congestion and road conditions statewide. The funding will be dedicated to projects recommended to us by the state’s transportation department, otherwise known as CDOT. The bonding measure will earmark $1.3 billion over the next three years to build safer roads and bridges.We also earmarked close to $200 million for fixing and maintaining buildings at our schools and colleges.One more thing, though it didn’t get many headlines, we also worked to invest in proven preventative measures like programs that reach out to at-risk students and measures designed to confront substance and alcohol abuse early on. These are simple things we can do to save Colorado taxpayers money now, before those costs reach our prisons, emergency rooms, and courts.State Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, is a member of the Joint Budget Committee.


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