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Budget committee begins initial work to trim state budget

As we move into February, the reality of what lies before the Colorado legislature this session becomes starker. The Joint Budget Committee is the six-member group of legislators tasked with presenting a proposed budget to true up this year’s revenue that didn’t come in as hoped for. Theirs is a difficult job that will soon pass with their proposal to all 100 legislators and it’s made more challenging as they publicly discuss ideas for cutting the budget.

The internal discussions among the JBC often become newspaper headlines like the issue of school breakfast funds. While it looks like that idea won’t go forward, it’s important for people to realize a couple of things.

The JBC needs to put ideas out on the table as that’s their job. Legislators and the public can and should react to those proposals, but, in the end, there’s no escaping that cuts of nearly $300 million must be in place for the budget year that ends this June.

We’re not even talking yet about what needs to be done to have a balanced budget for the state’s fiscal year 2011-12. That discussion will need to arrive at $1 billion dollars in cuts. I translate the number of one billion to one thousand million because one billion has no real meaning to me until I do that. Once I think of it that way, the enormity of our task becomes all the more obvious.

In Colorado, we can’t raise taxes without a vote of the people and, even if we could, the revenue wouldn’t arrive to the state coffers in time to alleviate the cuts needed. None of this is fun to talk about, yet it’s the conversation we have to have in our state. We are not alone. Every state in the nation is facing these challenges, not to mention our country as a whole.

One way Coloradans can get a sense of what the legislature is dealing with is to try this budget cutting exercise yourself. Go online to the Colorado Backseat Budgeter, a privately created website, at www.backseatbudgeter.com. There, you can experience the process of how you personally would cut the budget to meet the revenue shortfall.

Give it a try because you’ll see there’s no easy way to do this. It may give you a better sense of what the JBC members are facing at this point and how it’s possible to even contemplate reducing funding for a school breakfast program.

This year, given the split control of the legislature, the makeup of the JBC is also split between the two parties, three Republicans and three Democrats. I know them all and they have my respect and appreciation for putting themselves in this unenviable position of having to go first in proposing cuts.

While each member is guided by his or her own political philosophies, traditionally, the JBC works as a unit and is more policy driven than politically motivated. Let’s hope that tradition continues, especially this year.