Ritter filling holes in state budget

Gov. Bill Ritter, forced by the reality of a slow economy, has staked his new budget to twin underpinnings that will have long-term, not necessarily bad, ramifications.

The governor’s budget proposals announced Monday are aimed at filling a $60 million difference between the amount of money the state is taking in and the amount it plans to spend.

To be sure, Gov. Ritter is proposing a 1 percent, across-the-board reduction in personnel costs, meaning that the state won’t fill vacancies, and will be cutting spending by $1.3 million from the Department of Corrections.

To make up much of the remainder of the shortfall, the governor is building into his budget revenues from medical-marijuana registrations, or $9 million.

Once built into the budget, medical marijuana will be difficult to pry out of it and perhaps that’s just as well.

Voters spoke 10 years ago about their desires that people who gain relief from chronic pain and suffering from cannabis ought to have access to it.

We’re now seeing the effects of that and one of them is that the idea is wildly popular in the Grand Valley and across the state.

The governor’s budget proposal makes clear that medical marijuana now amounts to a revenue stream for the state government.

The potential implications of that are significant. Revenue from medical marijuana might end up being perceived as the proceeds of a sin tax and used to fund other programs, which seems to be the direction the governor is suggesting with the budget proposal.

Whether that is something voters envisioned when they approved Amendment 20 is another question, but for the moment, a strained state budget appears to be the beneficiary of what amounts to a voluntary tax.

The use of the state’s share of severance taxes and federal mineral leases to plug holes in the state budget isn’t less welcome as we look at western Colorado towns still struggling with the costs of energy development.

It’s tempting to observe that the suspension of awards to local governments “until further notice” is unlikely to be repealed, but we think the state government will remember the hole that energy revenues helped to fill.

In any case, we’re happy to remind the powers that be of that fact when the time is ripe.

For the moment, we’re content to point out that this episode highlights the importance to the state of the energy industry, one it forgets at its peril.


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