Lawmakers, Owens reach budget solution
DENVER – Lawmakers said Thursday they have reached a tentative agreement with Gov. Bill Owens on a plan to fix Colorado’s budget crisis, a dramatic step that could end months of partisan bickering over what both parties say is the most pressing issue in the state.Among other things, the plan calls for a five-year suspension of taxpayer refunds when there is surplus cash in state coffers.Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, said the agreement would allow the state to rebound from years of revenue shortfalls that have forced more than $2 billion in spending cuts and left some state services warning of major problems.Any plan must go before voters in November. And some legislators said they have concerns.Sen. Jim Dyer, R-Littleton, said the compromise was unfair because it does not tackle Amendment 23, which requires education spending increases and is a favorite of Democrats.”Everybody is not on board with this compromise,” Dyer told fellow Republicans at a caucus.The crisis has been blamed on the recent recession and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that took effect in 1992.TABOR requires state and local governments to limit spending to no more than a 6 percent increase over the previous year; during the recession, that spending threshold plunged dramatically in what lawmakers dubbed the “ratchet effect.”TABOR also limits the amount of taxes and fees the governments take in to a formula based on population growth and inflation. Extra money must be refunded to taxpayers, and voters also must approve any new tax increase.Lawmakers failed to come up with a solution last year even as they were making taxpayer refunds, spending cuts and boosting kindergarten through 12th-grade education funding at a rate equal to inflation plus 1 percent under Amendment 23.
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