State of limitations

While Colorado’s budget projections went from bad to worse this week, we were pleased to see that neither Gov. Bill Ritter nor state lawmakers from this area are looking to balance the budget on the backs of Colorado taxpayers through a tax increase.

Even if something could be put on the ballot this November — and a ballot measure would be required for any tax increase because of the state’s TABOR Amendment — it would be a hard sell to get voters to approve it.

Colorado residents are already struggling with high unemployment, a dismal real-estate market and a national recession. They recognize that higher taxes would simply be another burden, further crippling economic recovery.

Even with tax hikes off the table, however, the latest budget news will mean additional sacrifices for all of Colorado. As with cuts announced by the governor in August — when it was learned that funding for a skilled-nursing facility at the Grand Junction Regional Center will be eliminated — the Western Slope will have to share in the pain.

Those August cuts sliced roughly $320 million from the state budget that governs state spending through next June 30. Based on the revenue projections released Monday, Ritter will have to cut an additional $240 million from this year’s budget, and more cuts are likely for the following year.

The cuts this year are likely to mean additional furlough days for state employees and more cuts to or elimination of programs, such as what occurred with the skilled nursing facility in Grand Junction.

It would be great if all that could be accomplished without reducing or eliminating the state services that many people in this area have come to depend upon, but it can’t.

We believe the governor and his staff have done a commendable job with the first round of cuts, trying to spread the budget pain around, both geographically and throughout various branches of state government. We trust they will do a similar job with this second round of cuts.

But the latest revenue estimates, and projections for the longer term, also point to questions that all citizens of Colorado and their elected representatives need to be asking: What should the mission of our state government be in the future? Can we afford all of the programs and services we assigned to the state when the economy was humming along?

Everyone knows that these problems aren’t limited to Colorado. California, in particular, is having to scale back tremendously on the services its state government provides. Some experts predict revenue for state governments throughout the country will never recover to pre-recession levels.

Whatever one’s favorite state program, Colorado may no longer be able to sustain it at levels seen in the recent past.


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