Colorado lawmakers look at drastic budget cuts
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Colorado lawmakers return to work Wednesday with the urgent task of cutting up to $600 million from the current $19.2 billion budget and creating a “Jobs by June” plan to jump-start the state’s construction industry.
Democrats acknowledge that the state needs to cut $600 million because revenues have fallen sharply, including income taxes, sales taxes, corporate income taxes and capital gains taxes. They noted that the state hasn’t raised transportation fees for 17 years and that they need to look at other sources of revenue ” including increased taxes and fees ” in the current recession.
House Republicans said Tuesday they had warned Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter last year to cut the budget and set money aside for a rainy day but that Ritter rejected their suggestions.
They formed a task force Tuesday to keep an eye on budget-makers and recommend cuts.
If lawmakers continue to fund programs that aren’t crucial to state services, Republicans warned, Colorado could face more drastic budget cuts because the state is required to replenish any money borrowed from its reserves.
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“Are they writing a check they can’t cash? If so, we’re going to have to go back and honor that check,” House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said of Democratic leaders.
“The federal bailout isn’t going to be the answer. We can do something to get jobs by June and save some of these transportation jobs,” said Rep. Joe Rice, a Democrat from Littleton who is working on Democratic transportation plan.
Some 8,000 construction jobs are at risk because of a lack of transportation funding.
Republicans suggested that Colorado sell bonds to investors, using state buildings as collateral, to fund transportation projects after voters rejected tax increases in November.
They said the state has billions of dollars worth of buildings that could be converted to cash. But the Democrats who control the House and Senate were lukewarm to the idea, saying the state cannot afford to sell more bonds.
“What we’re being asked again is to double-down and basically take a subprime mortgage with no new revenue,” said Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver. “We have to have a payment plan.”
The focus in education this year will be on creating partnerships between businesses and higher education to provide skills needed for jobs in renewable energy, a priority of the Ritter administration.
Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, said working families aren’t expecting any federal bailouts.
“They’re asking for the opportunity to work,” she said.
Other issues to be debated during the 120-day session include providing tax credits to companies that create at least 20 new jobs, funding work force training at community colleges and expanding Internet access in rural communities.
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