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Working for better use of severance tax monies

The bright spring flowers that I bought on Easter Sunday are holding up well in my Denver apartment.

This is a good thing, given the rain and snow mix drearily pelting the trees outside ... springtime in the Rockies!

As nice a city as Denver is, I look forward to returning home at the end of the session in May.

We’ll be working through the budget in the Senate this next week. In recent years, I’ve complained loudly about the large portion of severance tax monies that has been diverted from its intended purpose of building and maintaining the infrastructure needed in this state to responsibly support the communities where energy development occurs.

The good news is, at least so far in the budgeting process, the governor’s office and the joint budget committee have responded to my and others’ arguments against further diversions of these funds. We stand a good chance of restoring that funding stream that helps shore up, literally, the roads, bridges and other essential infrastructure in the mostly rural areas of the state.

Based on the budget bill that passed the House, we’re also not making cuts to the extent that we have over the past several years. The big questions in front of us are where to restore funding now that the state’s economy is picking back up. With Colorado’s requirement of a balanced budget, even with improved revenues, there are still difficult choices to make as we weigh state priorities.

This number crunching can be viewed as a weary and boring task, yet, the state’s budget reflects much more than income and expenditures. Some call the budget a moral document, reflecting Colorado’s values and goals. At a minimum, as in any household, the legislature’s financial planning lays out the strategy for Colorado’s future.

As every responsible head of the household knows, we must also take the longer view. We should resist the temptation to build a budget based on election cycle strategies and interest groups’ expectations. One hundred legislators have at least that many different ways of approaching our budget planning and each feels his or her approach is the most justified.

With term limits firmly in place at the state legislative level, we no longer have legislators who’ve been in office for any great length of time. None have had the experience of how to wisely invest state funds when climbing out of a recession like what we’ve been experiencing.

We’re lucky to have the team of six legislators who have been working very hard in advance of the budget bill being introduced; yet, it’s my view that all legislators have a responsibility to review the budget proposal with a critical eye. For those who aren’t on the budget committee, we’ve got an additional tool this year to help us do that.

I mentioned in this column back in January that we were going through a new process of reviewing state department strategies and priorities as we started the 2012 legislative session. We spent many extra hours in committees hearing those reports and asking questions of the department heads as to their efforts in implementing the legislature’s past directives and in spending state resources wisely. I’m hoping that the extra work earlier this session will help with our review of the proposed budget now before us.

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