State workers, disabled groups oppose budget cuts | AspenTimes.com

State workers, disabled groups oppose budget cuts

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

Colorado Dept. of Revenue worker Pat McGarrigle, center, protests against furloughs with others at the Capitol in Denver, Colo., on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009. Tuesday was the first of four furlough days to be taken by state employees because of budget cuts. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER – Furloughed state workers, and advocates for the homeless and the disabled are urging lawmakers to rethink the latest round of budget cuts, with some proposing that millions of dollars in tax credits and exemptions be ended instead.

About 250 people gathered at a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday to oppose $258 million in cuts that took effect last week. One of the most unpopular is a plan to close units that treat children, teens and senior citizens at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan and move those patients to community facilities. Another would end $200 monthly payments to disabled people waiting to receive federal Social Security benefits, a move the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless said could push more people onto the streets.

“We need to look at ending corporate welfare before we cut aid to the needy disabled,” coalition president John Parvensky told the crowd.

Sally Yerger, who investigates housing discrimination and predatory lending for the state, joined the rally on the first of four unpaid furlough days she must take because of budget cuts. She said the latest cuts could end up costing more money in the long run because people who don’t get mental health treatment could end up in trouble with the law, or a misunderstanding with their landlord might get them evicted.

The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, which opposes the cuts, has proposed that lawmakers review tax breaks like ones for businesses that open in enterprise zones – areas that now cover about 70 percent of the state, including Denver’s pricey LoDo area.

It also wants the state to make sure nonresidents who own Colorado companies are paying income taxes, and it says lawmakers should revisit a host of sales tax exemptions for items such as gold bullion, bull semen and farm equipment. The state also exempts services such as dry cleaning from sales tax.

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Carol Hedges, a senior fiscal analyst at the institute, said lawmakers would have to come back for a special session this fall to make any changes that could take effect in 2010, allowing lawmakers to reverse the cuts.

A legislative committee that’s been meeting over the summer has also been looking at the state’s existing tax credits and exemptions.

Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter made the latest cuts on his own after lawmakers adjourned for the year and legislative economists warned tax revenue had fallen off even more steeply than expected because of the recession. He authorized $318 million in changes to balance the budget, including cutting $258 million in services and eliminating 300 positions.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the governor tried to preserve direct services to people in need, such as those relying on Medicaid and Meals on Wheels. He also said the Fort Logan units won’t be closed until patients are placed elsewhere.

“He understands that nobody likes this. He doesn’t like this,” Dreyer said.

Dreyer said he doesn’t think a special session is needed, but changing tax credits and exemptions will likely be a topic when lawmakers start working on the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts in July. That work is expected to start in November, when Ritter proposes his budget to the Joint Budget Committee.