State Leaders Battling $1 Billion Deficit, Making "Tough Choices"

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

As the nation faces an economic crisis, state governments are left working out their own financial woes. In Colorado, experts have projected a $600 million budget shortfall for the 2008 - 2009 fiscal year, and hundreds of millions more for the next one.

Only two weeks into the new legislative session, state leaders say they already feel overwhelmed by the daunting task that lies before them.

"Within the span of the next one-hundred twenty day session, we have a billion dollars to cut," said State Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, (R) Fruita.

Last week, Governor Bill Ritter gave legislators his first recommendations on how they could start that process. He's proposed more than $200 million in cuts to spending and government programs, transferring $289 million from other areas into the state's general fund, and pulling $134 million from the state's emergency reserve.

While all agree drastic steps must be taken to lessen the blow --

"It's appropriate we're making tough choices because families and businesses are making tough choices too," said Penry.

-- Not all agree on what those steps are. Penry says under the Governor's plan, he believes too many state severance tax dollars would go to fund government operations.

"The budget shouldn't be balanced on the backs of Western Slope energy producing economies," said Penry.

He hopes to have discussions soon on tightening the state's hiring freeze, suspending pay raises and benefit increases to state workers, and cutting back on government travel.

"We should focus on trimming the operations of government and try to minimize the impact on the actual functions, the service," said Penry.

While leaders say there will be disagreements down party lines as they move forward, they say during this session, more so than in the past, it's important for them to work together and get things done quickly.

"We're reaching out and trying to work with [Democrats]," said Penry. "And frankly, to their credit, they're soliciting our input too."

They say a bipartisan solution is necessary, because even with help from the federal government's new economic stimulus package on the horizon --

"Next year we would get about thirty million in new revenues to the State of Colorado," said Penry. "It's nice, but it doesn't solve the problem by any stretch of the imagination."

-- It's going to be up to them to solve the state's financial problems.

"I really hope and believe we can get a bipartisan agreement," said Penry.

Penry says the General Assembly expects another set of recommendations from the Governor sometime next week.

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