#Coleg Notebook: Massaging the budget, smoking what’s left
The budget looms
Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, has a bill, stuck in the appropriations committee, designed to fund a statewide, high-tech fire-and-flood-prediction system. It will cost at least $2 million in the first year. After three years at the Capitol, she knows this season well: the prebudget frenzy. Throughout the session, lawmakers have angled and cajoled for their bills, some of which even have bipartisan support. But when it comes to the state’s budget – constitutionally-mandated to be balanced – it’s not about passing bills. Now, it’s time to make sure the state has enough money to pay for them.
“There’s five million dollars per chamber, so decisions will have to be made,” said Kraft-Tharp of this year’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights-sapped budget. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, TABOR, doesn’t just give Coloradans the right to vote on tax hikes, it also puts a cap on how much money the state can spend, even through fee-funded programs.
When it comes to fighting fires, Kraft-Tharp is trying to make sure there is a good return on investment. “We spend billions on fires every year … If you spend two million dollars up-front, then the return on investment will be great because we’ll know exactly where to send our planes, our fire fighters.”
That said, Kraft-Tharp pointed out that she’s not just fighting her colleagues for a chunk of her chamber’s $5 million; she’s also competing with herself. She has a workforce development bill and a tax refund for small Colorado businesses that research and design clean technology and medical devices. The state can’t afford them all, and she knows it.
“We have to be creative and have a little patience,” she said of the looming funding frenzy. “I have a belief that bad bills tend to go away and good bills tend to get taken care of.”
Thank you for smoking
Despite being among the top 10 healthiest states in the nation, it turns out Colorado is lagging when it comes to taxing and regulating tobacco products. The state ranks 34th for cigarette taxation. According to Tobacco-Free Kids, Colorado spends nearly $400 million Medicaid dollars each year directly on smoking-related health issues. Yet a bill passed back in 1986 penalizes local governments that set their own taxes or regulations on tobacco.
Today the legislature is considering a bipartisan bill, HB 1257, to remove that old provision. The big-tobacco lobby is out in force.
A sure sign that the long days of the legislature are upon us: Lawmakers flocked to the Old Supreme Court chambers today for a few minutes of complimentary massages. Lucky them.
Leading image by José Feliciano Cerdeño.
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