Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, Wednesday said that the Senate had no intention of “rubber stamping” Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget plan. They said they would work to ensure the cuts to K-12 were limited, though Shaffer failed to provide specifics on how that would be done or if he would vote for a bill that didn’t include substantial cuts.
“We are not going to rubber stamp the governor’s budget,” Shaffer told members of the press. “The budget we pass won’t be the same as the governor’s proposal.”
Shaffer said he couldn’t immediately lay out the budget strategy he would propose to counter Hickenlooper’s controversial proposal. He said there were a number of moving parts in the budget, however, that could be engineered to lessen the impact of cuts on education and that he looked forward to working with lawmakers and the governor toward that end.
K-12 education would see a net loss of $332 million from 2010-2011 funding levels under Hickenlooper’s budget plan. Shaffer said he, like many other legislators and stakeholders, expected the cuts but remain committed to limiting the hit taken by public education in the state.
“Education equals jobs. One of the most important things we do is create an environment that is constructive for the private sector and we have to invest in our education sector in order to support our small businesses, our big businesses, in order to create jobs in our state. Senate bill 1 and other initiatives that will come forward this legislative session will focus our attention on legislative budgets, and our goal is to reduce the cuts the governor is proposing to our education system,” Shaffer said.
SB 1 says that any increase between the September revenue forecast and the March revenue forecast will be allocated to the knowledge-based economy fund that will be used to reduce the cuts to K-12. Secondly, the bill calls for audits of other departments so that any extra money found will go into preschool through college education. He said the bill also calls for the prioritization of programs.
Bacon was less reserved in his approach to the governor’s budget and blatantly said he hoped portions of Hickenlooper’s plan were dead on arrival, explaining that at least one place to find money could be in the governor’s proposed $100 million reserve fund. Bacon went on to say tax increases may be necessary.
“It is extremely shortsighted of us to say that we are going to grow the economy but shrink education like they are mutually exclusive,” Bacon said. “It is an oxymoron. It cannot happen. Maybe it can happen for a while by rearranging certain priorities. But we are going to have to have more resources, otherwise Colorado is not going to have the quality of life all of us expect from this state.
“I can afford to pay more. Many of the people I talk to say they can afford to pay more. We at least owe the voters (the opportunity) to at least express an opinion.”
Shaffer said he did not see tax increases or budgetary controls like the Gallagher amendment being tackled this year. “There is no desire under the capitol dome to raise taxes. The governor has said that, our Republican colleagues have said that, many of my Democratic colleagues have said that. I am only focused on those things I can control,” Shaffer said. “By funding our education system we will also be fueling the economy and creating jobs.”
Shaffer said that Democrats are more committed to reducing cuts to government than Republicans are at this point.
“Democrats are down here defending funding for public schools,” Shaffer said. How that will be done is still in question.