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Colorado governor signs law on budget disclosures

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter has signed into law a bill that requires state agencies to fully disclose anticipated costs when submitting proposed legislation to lawmakers.

Republican state Rep. Jim Kerr of Littleton says he introduced the bill after documents showed Ritter’s administration had withheld budget information from the Legislature, misleading lawmakers about the cost of programs they were voting on.

The administration denied wrongdoing.

The governor signed the bill March 20 with no fanfare. It goes into effect Aug. 4.

The bill moved quickly through the Legislature after reports showed individuals in the Department of Natural Resources withheld key fiscal information from the General Assembly regarding oil and gas regulations in 2007.

The Department of Natural Resources told lawmakers that developing state oil and gas regulations could cost less than $7,000 the first year, while an internal department estimate put the cost of implementing the regulations at more than $1 million, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The $7,000 estimate appeared in a February 2007 financial statement given to lawmakers as they deliberated the cost of enforcing a new regulatory regime affecting the energy industry.

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, questioned the estimate while the bill was being debated. They and eight other Republican legislators asked state auditors to check it. Auditors concluded the $6,840 cost was “reasonable” ” but were not given a department document containing the higher estimate.

“This was a prime example of why we need this law,” Kerr said. “As legislatures, we must have all the information available in order to make responsible decisions on behalf of the people of Colorado.”

Kerr also said that in 2007, Ritter signed a bill creating a health disparities office after lawmakers were promised there would be no significant cost. The program at the Department of Public Health and Environment was ordered to find ways to eliminate racial, ethnic and rural disparities in health care. This year, the department said it needed $233,000 to run the program because private funding had dried up.

The law requires state agencies to work with legislative budget analysts and justify their calculations. It also limits changes to financial requests once a bill has been submitted. But it carries no penalties.

Under current law, state agencies don’t have to provide any financial impact statements to accompany legislation introduced by the administration.

“The information that these entities relay to the General Assembly is vital” if lawmakers want to balance the state budget, Kerr said.


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