The statehouse commission assigned to study the state’s uncertain financial future is being asked to recommend – two more studies.
Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder and chair of the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission, asked members Thursday for their support of three measures he wants considered by the 2010 legislature. They are:
• Creation of a 23-member appointed commission to review the conflicting financial provisions in the state’s constitution. Under Heath’s plan, the legislature would have to submit creation of the commission to the voters in November 2010. If voters approved the panel, it would study the issue and could submit proposed changes directly to the voters in 2012. “We have all of these issues out there, and I don’t think in the framework of the legislature we can solve them,” Heath said. “It would create a third way to amend the constitution.”
(A loose coalition of civic groups already is working on a possible fiscal fix for submission to voters in 2011.)
• A resolution through which the legislature would create a privately funded expert panel to study the state’s entire tax system. The panel would report back to the legislature with recommendations by the beginning of 2011 “so the legislature can deal with those issues and put something on the 2011 ballot.” Heath estimated the cost at $1 to $1.5 million.
• A bill that would give state colleges and universities greater flexibility in how they spend their budgets. “That bill is being worked on … I can’t be as specific as I can be on the others,” Heath said. “It doesn’t, I guess, give them all the freedom they want.” For example, Heath said, he hasn’t decided whether to include college flexibility to set tuition rates. “I’m struggling with that, frankly.”
The committee is on a tight deadline. It doesn’t meet again until Nov. 4 and 5, but the five bills it’s allowed to propose have to be sent to members of the Legislature Council on Nov. 6. Only the commission’s six legislator members are allowed to vote on bills.
Thursday those lawmakers voted 4-2 (Dems vs. GOP) to have Heath’s fiscal reform idea drafted and 6-0 for drafting of the tax study and higher education flexibility measures.
The lawmakers also agreed unanimously to have these other ideas drafted as possible bills: Rainy day fund legislation, creation of dedicated funding sources for state building maintenance and highways, establishment of an office of regulatory reform and elimination of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. (That last one was suggested by citizen commissioner Kirvin Knox, a retired CSU administrator.)
The legislator members will vote at the next meeting on which bills to forward to legislative leaders.
The commission was created by the 2009 legislature – after a fair amount of partisan wrangling – and has spent nine previous day-long meetings listening to hours of number-filled testimony by state agency heads, economists and advocates.
As part of that fact-finding process, state agency heads were asked to estimate their “ideal” budgets. Commission staffers toted up those wish lists and told the committee Thursday that the “ideal” state budget would be about $27 billion a year, compared to about $18.5 billion now.
Also Thursday, commission members finally got the chance to speak individually.
While the comments highlighted some of the ideological differences among commission members, they also reflected at least some broad agreement on issues like the need for a state rainy day fund, better support of higher education, studying the state’s tax system and being more strategic and results-oriented about state spending.
Here are some snippets of what members said, in the order they spoke:
Carol Boigon, Denver City Council member – “We want a lot of things and we don’t want to pay for them. We are delivering less than our people want … but frankly more than we can pay for right now.”
Amy Oliver Cooke, conservative talk shøw host – “The numbers are seriously dizzying. … I do disagree that more money automatically means better services … the question is how we spend it.”
Renny Fagan, CEO Colorado Non-profit Association – “Our path is unsustainable unless we make significant changes. … Our revenue system is inadequate and constitutional conflicts need to be fixed. … In the end those two issues will be resolved by the voters.”
Marty Neilson, president Colorado Union of Taxpayers – “We need to think about cutting spending. …I thank God every morning and I thank Douglas Bruce for TABOR.”
Sean Conway, Weld County commissioner – “Much of the current funding crisis will resolve itself as the economy comes back,” but the legislature needs more flexibility, and the state tax code needs a thorough review.
Knox – “We don’t have enough resources to do the things we need. … I do think we need to do a tax study.”
Timothy Hume, Walsh rancher and banker – “We should continue to be a low-tax state, but we also can’t continue on the path we’re on. There is a middle ground.”
Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen – “I really am concerned about spending our children’s future.”
Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver – “We really have to understand what the people of this state truly want. … I truly believe we do not have the revenue in this state for what the people think they want.”
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray – “I believe the amount of money we will be allowed to spend … is an adequate amount of revenue to fund the core functions of government over the long run.”
Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs – “For the past 30 years we’ve had a really condescending view of government … we constantly lose sight of how government benefits us. … Government does an awful lot right.”
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, vice chair – “At the end of the day we have to have a discussion about the amount of revenue we have in this state.”
Heath – “It’s absolutely inconceivable to me that we have one of the richest states … and not be able to provide for our citizens.”
Unable to attend Thursday’s meeting were citizen members Jonathan Coors, government relations director of CoorsTek; Donna Lynn, president of Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and Cris White, COO of the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.
Use this link for a directory of stories that includes reports on past commission meetings.
Do your homework
- Commission website, with meeting summaries and background materials
- University of Denver report on “Colorado’s State Budget Tsunami,” cited by several members Thursday as being among the most useful information they’d received during the hearings