Balance state budget without waiting for federal funds, lawmakers urge

The promise that the federal government could inject billions of dollars into state governments should not deter Colorado leaders from slashing its expenditures now, according to a senior state lawmaker.

Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, cautioned his peers at a Friday forum with Colorado’s congressional delegation that the federal government is not going to make all of Colorado’s budget woes disappear.

Tapia said even if the federal government does help Colorado put its budget in the black, it might not come soon enough. The state faces a $1 billion shortfall through 2010.

“Our body has to be careful thinking that we’re going to get money to bail us out of our immediate problem,” Tapia said. “We need to deal with our situation now.”

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, circulated a letter among his colleagues Friday to the same effect.

“If we think Colorado’s economic woes are simply going to be swept away by a torrent of ‘free’ money … we should think again,” Penry wrote.

Gov. Bill Ritter is scheduled to present his proposed budget cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which starts in July, during a Tuesday hearing of the Joint Budget Committee.

Ritter unveiled a plan last week to slash more than $600 million out of the current year’s budget.

Though it remains unclear how much money will help states afflicted with budget shortfalls, Colorado’s federal representatives said the money will be devoted to creating jobs by the end of 2009.

Congressman John Salazar, D-Colo., said through transportation and renewable energy projects, the proposed federal stimulus package should create “3 million jobs in the first year.”

“The objective here is to create jobs,” he added.

As Congress considers how best to dole out federal stimulus dollars, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D- Denver, asked Salazar and his colleagues to allow states flexibility in spending stimulus dollars.

Salazar said Congress plans to broadly outline how federal stimulus dollars are spent, such as on road or bridge projects, and little else.


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