Opinion: Summer’s over … back to work
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
The “out-of-session season” is winding down. It’s back to work on the Joint Budget Committee starting on Nov. 12.
But last month, there was still time to travel, listen and learn. The highlights included a visit to Ms. Smalley’s advanced placement social studies class at Glenwood Springs High School, fishing and learning about water projects with Paul Bruchez in Grand County, a day with outdoor industry leaders in Glenwood Springs, the El Pomar Foundation yearly conference, a kickoff meeting of the Education Leadership Council, a press conference to announce new rates for private market insurance (down by 34% in my senate district), a town hall in Granby and two trips with the Budget Committee to state-funded facilities and institutions.
I’m also spending time on rural economic development, specifically focused on Craig, Hayden, Rangely and Meeker, as they anticipate being impacted by changing from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
And numerous visits with constituents. It’s great to have time to dig in and understand issues and problems in depth and to see local solutions crafted by towns, counties and community organizations.
Meanwhile, back in Denver, bills and budgets for the next legislative session are shaping up. The Budget Committee reviewed the revenue forecast for next year on Sept. 20, and we get the governor’s budget proposal on Nov. 1.
Our state economists are predicting a slowing of revenue growth but not a recession. The legislature has created new programs in the past few years. Those programs now have continuing spending needs, and we still have structural problems with school funding and transportation. I continue to ask for estimates of the impact from increased regulation on oil, gas and coal, but the answer is that we don’t know enough yet to factor that into our forecasts. Stay tuned.
So, the ballots are arriving in our mailboxes. Should we vote to allow the state to keep and spend revenue above the TABOR spending limit? Should we allow betting on sports events and collect a 10% tax to be spent on water projects? Do I have an opinion? Of course, I do.
We do need to fund the state’s water plan and to prepare for future demands for water downstream to California. But even if you believe sports betting is a proper source for water projects and you vote for proposition DD, be aware that this is just a down payment on the long-term need of $100 million per year. I’m reminded of the promise that marijuana would pay for K-12 education and that it now contributes about 1%.
Proposition CC evokes considerable dissension. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is almost sacred to us fiscal conservatives, and this measure removes one of the necessary protections to limit the growth of government.
But government does grow, sometimes by adding new projects or programs and often through unplanned structural changes. A good example is property tax contribution to school finance, which has dropped to 40% of the total from 60% a few years ago, and the state must make up the billion-dollar difference.
TABOR allows for the growth of the existing government of about 3.5% a year. Through various changes to the TABOR limit, and as we caught up to the TABOR limit, the general fund budget has grown by about 6% in recent years. The question is: “Do we allow the state to keep an uncertain amount of TABOR excess revenue to pay for this growth, or do we fix the underlying issues of funding specifically for water, education and transportation?”
It’s much harder to find sources of funding for water, education and transportation, but do we leave those problems for future legislatures? I’ll vote no on CC because I want to force real solutions.
Sen. Bob Rankin serves on the Joint Budget Committee and represents Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Grand, Jackson and Summit counties.
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