A budget bill — something for everyone to dislike

It was great to be home for a short weekend to take a breather from the state Capitol buzz saw. With another heavy spring snowstorm hitting Denver, I didn’t know if I’d make it, but I knew I wanted to. Despite many hours of delays, gate changes and a lengthy de-icing of the plane, with kudos owed to the flight crew, we made it.

You probably know that the Colorado House worked hard on the budget this past week. We had $300 million to cut and there’s something for everyone to hate. I know I hate some of the cuts and revenue shifts, but we have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget. Most states have this requirement and it’s one of the major differences between state and federal government budgeting. We can’t make money and we can’t grow deficits.

With the significant growth in government programs and employees that’s occurred in prior years, we had to apply some of the same belt tightening that Colorado’s families and businesses have been experiencing. The Senate will now consider our proposals and may make new changes. If they do, the budget bill goes to a conference committee for resolution before heading to the governor’s desk.

As many of you already sense, this is not likely to be the end of difficult times. We’ll only know if what we did was enough when we get the next economic forecast in mid-June.

None of this is fun to report to you, but there is a silver lining, if you want to look for it. When we in the House were debating the budget bill and the various ways to balance it, the debate was civil and respectful. Both sides of the aisle were engaged in trying to make the process work and realized that we had a common goal, even if our paths to getting there were often quite different.

That doesn’t mean there was total agreement or that harsh words weren’t exchanged at times. But, the Republicans came to the table with ideas and didn’t just sit back enjoying the Democrats’ discomfort at being at the helm in these difficult times. For their part, the Democrats understood that we couldn’t go along with the prior proposals to cut higher education by $300 million or raid the worker’s comp funds.

When particular cuts or revenue shifts came up that individually we opposed, we were reminded by our respective party leadership that if we picked things apart one by one, to save our favorite projects or concerns, we would accomplish nothing in the end. I realized they were right and the failure to make hard choices is one of the biggest failings in Washington, D.C.

On another topic of considerable interest, I’ve heard from many about the bicycling bill. Some expressed concerns like mine that the bill doesn’t actually increase cyclist safety and was too one-sided. Many have said, though, that they would like me to support the bill because cyclists feel too vulnerable on the road from inattentive or even malicious drivers who intentionally harass cyclists.

For the record, I’m a cyclist, or was, when I had more time in my personal life. I rode in the Ironhorse a few years back and even made it to Silverton, although I was in the last batch of riders. I spent a lot of time on our county roads training for that day and I know what people are talking about. I support the concept of sharing our roads, but this bill still needs work. Enough legislators felt that way that it’s been sent back by the House to yet another conference committee to seek a compromise on its terms. I hope to support it when it comes back and I’ll keep all of your input in mind. I don’t want to get kicked out of my favorite bike shop when I get home next month.