At the risk of being preoccupied in my columns this session with all things budget related, I’m going to write again about the financial scenario we’re facing at the state Capitol.
A sign of the times was the question from the nice man sitting next to me on the plane as I flew back to Denver after the weekend at home. He asked, with a smile, if I really was returning for another week at the Legislature rather than running away to another state.
Yes, indeed, it is apparent I’m a glutton for punishment.
If the drama in Wisconsin tells us anything, it’s that Colorado is not alone in its budget woes — not by a long shot. However, the phrase “misery loves company” takes us only so far, if anywhere at all. The real challenge is what we do about the mess we’re in.
Governor Hickenlooper laid his cards on the table this past week by putting out his proposal for next year’s budget. It’s a tough thing for a brand new governor to start out with what is, without question, the starkest, most austere budget I’ve seen since being in the legislature. He didn’t pull any punches and he really couldn’t. There’s no way to sugarcoat a proposal cutting $1.1 billion from Colorado’s budget.
In a letter accompanying his proposal, Gov. Hickenlooper called it “difficult, painful, but ultimately necessary.” Now what happens is the legislature’s joint budget committee prepares its own budget proposal for next year and, once done, presents it to the rest of the Legislature.
The two proposals will be debated and, mostly likely, they’ll be melded together to arrive at a balanced budget for fiscal year 2011-12. With so much of the state budget controlled by mandates either from the federal government or our own state Constitution, though, there’s little room to move.
That fact has me supporting two resolutions currently in the legislature. One is Senate Concurrent Resolution 1 (SCR 1), that, if passed this session by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, will go to a vote of the people in 2012 regarding possible changes to our constitutional initiative process.
SCR 1 keeps Colorado’s initiative process, but raises the vote required to add to our state constitution to 60 percent. It also requires proponents of constitutional initiatives to collect signatures from all congressional districts. Initiatives changing our statutes rather than the constitution will remain untouched for at least three years, unless a two-thirds legislative vote is achieved. Changes to constitutional provisions adopted before 2013 remain at a majority vote of the people.
The second resolution is one I’m the prime sponsor of and, although introduced, it’s yet to be heard on the Senate floor. That resolution reinforces our prohibition at the state level to pass unfunded mandates to the local level and pushes back on the federal government doing the same to Colorado. With all of us struggling to make ends meet, we mustn’t push the hard choices off on other levels of government.