Statehouse budget-writing rule upsets Democrats

DENVER — Fireworks erupted Tuesday on the floor of the Colorado House over a nonbinding resolution that called for legislative budget writers to be more conservative in whatever revenue projections they use when drafting the state’s annual spending plan.

By law, the Legislature’s budget is required to be balanced. To do that, lawmakers base expected revenue on economic projections that even the legislative economists who make them admit are never very accurate.

As a result, House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, wants budget writers to take whatever revenue estimates they base next year’s spending plan on and reduce them by 2.75 percent.

That way, the budget is sure to be in balance even if revenue ends up being less than expected, as has happened the past four years, McNulty said.

But Democrats said that means there will be another $195 million revenue shortfall added on top of the $1 billion deficit legislators already anticipate, which they expect would be taken out of education funding.

“The new effect, if we are to take this resolution seriously, is that we will inflict needless pain on K–12 education and perhaps higher education,” said Rep. Randy Fisher, D-Fort Collins.

Democrats tried to tack an amendment onto the measure saying that if revenue actually comes in higher than anticipated, then that money would go to education. McNulty, however, said the idea didn’t fit under the resolution and refused to allow the rest of the House to vote on it.

When Fisher tried to question him on that ruling, McNulty gaveled him down several times and finally cut off his microphone to prevent the normally mild-mannered legislator from speaking, which prompted even more protests from Democrats.

“This is the history of the Republican Party,” Rep. John Soper, D-Thornton, said. “They refuse to allow the other side to express their views.”

Republicans said using a more conservative revenue target would prevent the need for the governor to make drastic cuts toward the end of a fiscal year.

“We all know that forecasting is very tough and complicated business,” said Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, who introduced the resolution. “But I don’t think even (the economists) would argue the fact that forecasting is not an exact science. We feel that a more honest and responsible way to do the budget is to introduce a number that’s within the margin of error.”

The measure passed 39–26, with six Democrats voting in favor of the idea, including Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs. Many of them said the measure was not binding, so arguing against it made little sense.

The measure heads to the Senate, where it is sure to face a cool reception from Democratic senators, who have a 20–15 majority there.


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