Budget bickering moves to Senate, where Morse restores funds cut by GOP

The partisan feud over a largely symbolic budget resolution spilled over into the Senate today, where Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, amended Joint House Resolution 1007 to effectively remove a Republican amendment that lowered revenue expectations by 2.7 percent.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said the decision reminds him of a dog returning to its vomit.

“What the resolution says is ‘let’s talk about laying off 3,200 additional teachers now.’ And I am saying we may have to have that conversation and if we do we are willing to have it and we are willing to make the cuts that have to be made to balance our budget, which is constitutionally required, but not until we absolutely have to,” Morse said as he introduced his amendment. “So to arbitrarily say we are going to budget to a lower number makes no sense. We need to budget to what we think realistically the number will be.”

Last week House Republicans amended the traditionally bipartisan resolution in order to lower the non-partisan Legislative Council’s revenue projections and then refused amendments to the bill under a title ruling that Democrats said breached House decorum. The projection decrease would mandate $195 million in added cuts to governmental programs. Today Morse countered the Republican move by both nullifying their amendment and adding that extra revenues should be directed toward education.

“Instead of having a $1.1 billion shortfall that is going to drive us nuts, we will have a $1.3 billion shortfall. This amendment moves us back up to the legislative council number, not higher than that, and also suggests that any revenue coming in over that will be used to backfill what we are going to have to do for education,” Morse said.

Contrary to Democratic concerns that cutting the budget further could negatively affect K-12 education needlessly, Republicans defended the 2.7 percent decrease to projections and said it was time to use realistic expectations.

“Don’t send the signal to the broader community of stakeholders of all of these different areas that we are going to spend more than we can rationally believe we are going to take in,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, said. “Let’s draw the line at a lower amount and if we take in more money than that amount move that to a rainy day fund, then let’s have a conversation about how to move that to our highest priorities.”

Sen. Mitchell provided a more colorful explanation.

“…It is stunning to me that after making the same mistake for several years now and greedily grabbing the higher estimate and then later being forced to conform to a lower number or even lower numbers than the lower revenue estimate, we are doing it again. Either we are insane in an Einsteinian sense, or we are the proverbial dog in the old testament that returns to its vomit.”

The resolution provides the Joint Budget Committee with interim guidance from the General Assembly on the revenue forecast in order to consider the budget. It used the Legislative Council’s projections this year rather than those provided by the Governor‘s Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB). While the resolution looks at December revenue projections, the projections that are actually used for budgeting purposes are those that come out in March.

“Where this $195 million come from, who knows, I do know this. People who we have tasked with giving us responsible numbers have done so,” Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Denver said. “We have chosen a number $207 million less than the more aggressive number, than the OSPB number. It seems to me we have already taken a conservative approach.”

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, argued his concern that events all over the world, including the riots occurring in Egypt, could negatively affect the Colorado budget to provide support for the Republican version of the resolution.

“If that crises across the world in a nation that controls the Suez canal goes beyond where it is today and that canal closes down, you can say goodbye to revenues being anywhere near what we are estimating,” Lundberg said. “We need to have the fiscal responsibility to hold the line. It seems that even in this small step we can’t do that.”

Morse said no matter what the reason, if Colorado sees shortfalls, the budget will be cut. However, he again argued that those cuts should come only when absolutely necessary.

“We are going to have to cut $1.1 billion or find revenue sources. Realistically we will end up having to cut $600-800 million in my personal opinion. This means we are going to have to squeeze Medicaid as much as we can, we are going to have to squeeze higher education as much as we can, and whatever is left is going to end up coming from K-12 education.”

We are talking about real jobs and real children’s education here and that is why, let’s not cut until we have to. And when we have to, Democrats have made those cuts and will continue to do so, but we will not make them hypothetically. We will make them when they need to be made.”

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