I serve on the House Transportation Committee and the House Health and Environment Committee. This past week both of these committees met in joint session with our Senate counterparts. The major theme of both meetings was hearing from the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), which is the most important committee in the legislature because it presents the budget.
The JBC is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans. Since the Democrats hold a majority in the Senate and the Republicans hold a majority in the House, JBC is evenly divided between the parties. This is good and bad. It is good because they must come to consensus, and it can present a problem if there is a total stalemate.
Members on the JBC are Senators Mary Hodge, Pat Stedman and Representative Mark Ferrandino, Democrats, and Representatives Cheri Gerou, John Becker and Senator Kent Lambert, Republicans. I have been privileged to get to know all of these men and women and have every confidence that they will come up with a reasonable Long Bill or budget.
It won’t be easy though. In both hearings, Representative Gerou informed us that they will have to cut $300,000 out of the current year’s budget and an additional $1.2 billion out of the 2011-2012 budget. This is a daunting task!
Representative Gerou also challenged each of the committees to implement systemic changes in the departments that we oversee. I absolutely agree that we must look at every line in the budget and every function of every department to see if each is absolutely needed. We must eliminate all waste, and we must demand that each department be run at top efficiency.
For the past two years, the budget has been balanced by using federal stimulus money and cash funds like the severance tax money that comes primarily from the oil and gas industry. Those days are over! There will be no more federal stimulus money, and cash funds should be used for their intended purpose.
Severance tax money is a cash fund that was intended to go back to the areas where it originated. Senator Ellen Roberts and Representative Don Coram are running a bill that would prevent the Governor or Legislature from using severance tax money to balance the budget. I am a cosponsor of that bill.
The bottom line is that we must encourage business, which will expand the job market and broaden tax base resulting in more revenue to fund those functions that we absolutely need from government. A big part of the problem is the federal government and its promise of higher budget deficits, punitive regulation, higher taxes, budget breaking mandates and the anticipation of high inflation. Hopefully, the feds will take a road that will at least stop the bleeding.
In the meantime, we in Colorado must take care of our own problems, balance our budget, still take care of those who cannot take care of themselves and maintain our infrastructure.