Under the Dome: Tough budget work about to begin
After a week of great fall weather, it was snowing hard at my house the last two mornings. Summer was way too short. Joyce and I go back to Denver this week and start activity that will be nonstop through next May. But we’re not complaining. It’s an honor to represent Northwest Colorado in the Legislature, and we look forward to what’s coming.
The six-person Joint Budget Committee (JBC), of which I’m a member, starts hearings Thursday. We’ll be grinding through the performance measures, organization and budgets of 22 state government departments. Our wonderful nonpartisan staff members spend all year analyzing every aspect of all the departments in detail and then, in their first presentation, shovels it to us in a few hours. They seem to have a sincere belief that we can absorb so much information and data. The committee asks a lot of questions, and the department comes back another day and answers our questions. We put together a balanced budget by March and present it to both houses of the Legislature.
The JBC starts with a budget recommendation from the governor that is synthesized from department inputs and revenue forecasts. This year looks to be problematic, and I expect a tumultuous process to get to our March budget. To start with, the forecasts (they will change twice before March) indicate a $160 million shortfall for the current fiscal year that ends in July. The recommendation is that we take this sum from our 6.5 percent reserve and replace the reserve next year.
That means however, that, based on forecasts, we will have to make up $373 million after mandatory spending in the year starting next July. We’re accustomed to having some budget for new programs and expansions of existing programs, and we will have none this year.
To balance the budget with this projected shortfall the governor is suggesting specific cuts that the JBC will consider. These cuts include an additional $50 million from K-12 funding, $20 million from higher education, a $19 million cut from Medicaid provider rates and more.
We are expecting to exceed TABOR revenue limits next year, so the recommended budget includes $289 million for tax refunds.
It’s, of course, strange to be cutting vital spending while refunding money, but our complex set of constitutional and legislative constraints and mandates have created an unusual situation to say the least. The most significant is Medicaid growth and its associated hospital funding mechanism known as the Hospital Provider Fee (HPF) that are included in the TABOR limit. That limits other spending. My view is that approval of the Medicaid funding mechanism, including the HPF, should be presented to the voters under the provisions of TABOR next year. Otherwise we will continue to squeeze out other critical spending.
Is this too much information? By the way, thanks for the vote on BB to allow us to spend the marijuana tax money. We’ll spend the money on school buildings and marijuana education and treatment.
“Under the Dome” appears on the second Tuesday of the month. State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, is in his second term in the state Legislature representing House District 57, which includes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.