Righting Colorado’s listing budgetary ship
Just a few years ago Colorado was refunding excess revenues back to taxpayers. Now, to keep fiscally afloat, it is cutting spending left and right, diverting tobacco settlement funds from health-related programs, and considering selling and leasing back state buildings, like some kind of pawn shop patron.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. For one thing, lawmakers failed to set aside emergency funds when times were good.
Now, they should act on State Treasurer Mike Coffman’s call to create a rainy day fund. That way, the next time the state is rolling in cash, it can be socking some away, knowing the good times can’t last forever.
The bigger job that lies ahead of lawmakers is not of their own making. The conflicting interests of several state initiatives create the conditions for the kind of perfect budgetary storm the state is now experiencing.
One of these amendments, Gallagher, locks in the residential/commercial ratio of the state’s property tax burden. A second, TABOR, prohibits increased tax rates without voter approval. A third, Amendment 23, requires an increase in the state’s K-12 education spending beyond the rate of inflation.
Voters happily approved Amendment 23 during a time of plenty, in 2000. Two years later, the measure’s critics are proving right in their warnings about what could happen in a time of recession. It is creating an unsustainable fiscal situation, when combined with the revenue restrictions imposed by Gallagher and TABOR.
State lawmakers need to assign a panel to study the conflicts these initiatives create, and propose a referendum that resolves them. And voters will have to realize that failing to modify these initiatives threatens to disable state government’s ability to function.
Meanwhile, lawmakers shouldn’t wait for the next rainy day before getting busy creating a rainy day fund.
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