Legislative panel looks at budget conflict between TABOR, other amendments


Committee approval

Here’s a rundown of proposals approved Wednesday by the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission:

• Create a budget reserve fund.

• Allow state agencies to enter into agreements with nonprofit groups for various services.

• Give colleges and universities more flexibility in how they operate.

• Comprehensive study on the state’s tax policies.

• Create a commission to consider fiscal policy changes in the state Constitution.

A legislative committee that spent much of the summer looking at the state’s fiscal problems approved five proposed measures Wednesday, one of which could lead to doing away with the popular Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

In addition to creating a rainy-day fund and giving higher education more flexibility in how colleges and universities operate, the 16-member Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission wants to study the state’s complicated tax policies.

That would include creating a special constitutional commission that would come up with a ballot question that would fix conflicting provisions in the Colorado Constitution over how the state taxes and spends. That ballot measure would, among other things, include reconciling tax revenue limits set under TABOR with spending mandates approved by voters for public education.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver and a member of the panel, said existing fiscal policies and conflicting constitutional provisions need to be considered now if the state is to avoid future budget crises such as the one it’s facing now because of the down economy.

“This isn’t intended as a way to get rid of TABOR,” he said. “This is intended to take a long, hard look at all the constitutional provisions we have that conflict with each other and come up with a real fix.”

The 19-member commission would be appointed by the governor, Legislature and Colorado Supreme Court, and it would spend much of 2010 and 2011 examining the issue, with the goal of referring something to the ballot in 2012.

The panel also spent hours debating how much bigger the rainy-day fund should be. It already has a small reserve fund.

Competing proposals by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, and Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, focus on whether the state should set aside 15 percent of the nearly $6 billion general fund into the rainy-day fund, which is the state’s main checking account.

Brophy’s measure would attempt to sock that money away almost immediately. Court’s plan would do so over several years.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the rainy-day measure would do what the state should have done years ago, putting money aside when it has it, and spending it only when it needs it.

“If these discussions have taught us anything, it’s that if we don’t just do it, it will never get done,” said Penry, who isn’t a member of the committee. “Everybody agrees that we need to have the discipline to put money aside. We can collaborate later on how to raid it.”

Penry said if the Legislature had approved a rainy-day fund in 2006 when he and then-Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, proposed the idea, the state now would have $2 billion in a savings account.


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