More budget roulette at the state Capitol

Democrats in the Colorado Senate are playing the same game with the state budget as they did last year: Approving a spending plan for the state based on optimistic budget projections and potentially leaving it to Gov. Bill Ritter to clean up their mess if they economy doesn’t improve.

That’s not to say the Republicans’ budget plan was perfect. We have criticized the GOP for pushing across-the-board budget cuts for all of state government instead of attempting to set priorities for where the greatest cuts should be made.

But at least the Republicans recognized that the state could be facing a budget shortfall of as much as $1 billion in coming budget years. They structured their budget plan accordingly.

The $18.2 billion budget approved largely along party lines Friday actually increases state spending by 6 percent over the current year’s budget, in part by relying on federal stimulus money to help fill holes in the budget, money that will disappear after the coming year. And, while some cuts in specific areas were made, notably to public education, it doesn’t contemplate the kinds of cuts that Republicans wanted and could ultimately be necessary.

It’s true there is reason for optimism in the most recent revenue projections for the state. Revenue from both personal and corporate income taxes was higher than anticipated for the first quarter of 2010. And there have been projections that the shortfall in the budget year that begins July 1 may be only $212 million. But various economists have warned that the state economy could worsen and the budget picture will become more grim.

Last year, legislative leaders also relied on optimistic revenue projections in formulating a budget. When the revenue didn’t materialize — after the Legislature had adjourned for the year — Gov. Ritter was left to make painful cuts to ensure the state didn’t operate in the red.

We truly hope history isn’t about to repeat itself.


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