Budget items top legislative agenda

Last Friday was the 45th day of the 120-day legislative session. However, it seemed more like the 100.

Committee hearings were going late, legislators and staff were looking tired and stressed, and civility was put to the test. That’s what happens when bills are at or approaching deadlines to be heard and can’t be postponed any longer while at the same time we are trying to get 35 bills through the Senate to balance the current (2008-2009) budget.

All of the budget balancing measures, also referred to as Supplemental bills, passed out of the Senate and are now in the House.

One of the amendments that I sponsored along with Senators Heath, Gibbs and Schwartz eliminated the proposed transfer of Limited Gaming Funds to the general fund. This will allow the gaming funds to be transferred at the end of this fiscal year to the four areas that were designated for funding by House Bill 1201, which was passed back in 2006. The governor’s proposed budget amendment was diverting half of the gaming funds and the Joint Budget Committee had reduced the diversion to a fourth of the funds. The largest recipient is the Colorado Tourism Office Board at nearly $21 million. The other areas that this amendment protects the funding for are the Council on the Arts, New Job Incentives and Film Incentives.

Tourism and the tax revenue that it produces are important to the state. I don’t think it is wise at this time to jeopardize future tax revenues by cutting our tourism promotion efforts. The return on investment is extremely high with somewhere over $150 of economic activity and between $10 and $20 of tax revenue generated for every dollar invested in tourism promotion.

Some of the areas that I had concerns with didn’t end up in the supplementals. The House and Senate Agriculture Committee had sent letters to the Joint Budget Committee with our concerns about some of the proposals. Fortunately, we were successful in getting the JBC to take a couple of the most onerous measures off the table, at least for the time being.

One of these was a transfer of $500,000 from the Brand Board Funds. Owners of brands pay an assessment on their brands every five years these funds along with inspections charges have to fund the brand inspection program for the full five years. There is no General Fund support. The Brand Board also pays an overhead charge to help cover the costs of the Department of Agriculture. Transfer of these funds would have required an increase in inspection charges paid by producers. It isn’t right to divert fees paid by producers for a specific purpose to balance the General Fund. The JBC also removed a proposed cut in the overtime paid State Water Commissioners for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends June 30th. Water commissioners typically put in extra hours in the spring because that is when the run-off occurs and waters users are calling for their water which causes most rivers to be under administration. It clearly isn’t a 40-hour-per-week job.

I wasn’t successful in the Senate in an effort to reduce the proposed increase in well permit fees. Most all categories of well permits will increase dramatically under this proposed supplemental. For example, a new well permit will go from $100 to $665. I was attempting to limit the increase to no more that the actual costs incurred by the Division of Water Resources not to exceed a doubling of the fees. Due to the short time frame I had to get the amendment done the drafters and fiscal analysts were unable to get the information necessary to know what the actual costs were and I was having difficulty coming up with another source of funding to take the place of capping the permit fees.

I met with Rep. Kathleen Curry and she has a plan that hopefully will be successful in the House. I had planned to talk about several others bills but since I’m almost out of space, I’ll follow up next week. I hope you have a good week. Adios!