State’s budget writers in bind

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By Greg Romberg

2011 will be one tough year for legislative budget writers in Colorado. To begin, they will face one of the toughest budget years in our state’s history. Add to that the fact that split control of the legislature means the Joint Budget Committee will be made up of three Republicans and three Democrats. And if that’s not enough of a challenge, the six members of the JBC will have three cumulative years of experience on the budget panel.
As we struggle to emerge from the recession, balancing Colorado’s budget continues to be a difficult problem. Depending upon how revenues from the holiday season come in, we’re likely to fact a budget deficit of plus or minus $1 billion. It’s always difficult to address a problem like this, but given the fact that very difficult decisions have already been made over the last couple of years, it will be even harder going forward. The days of cutting discretionary programs and implementing gimmicks are gone, and most of the money that can easily be transferred from cash funds has already been used.
Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee is made up of two members of the majority party and one member of the minority party from both the House of Representatives and the Senate. As Republicans will control the House and Democrats the Senate for the next two years, each party will have three members on the budget committee. While budget writers must always find compromises to introduce and pass a budget, the political split when one party controls each house makes it more difficult that when two-thirds of the members are of the same party, as happens when both houses are in the hands of the same party.
Because of a variety of factors, most notably term limits, only two of the six members of the budget committee have experience on the committee, and those two members have just three cumulative years of experience. Rep. Mark Ferrandino has two years experience on the budget committee, and Sen.-elect Kent Lambert was a committee member last year while he was in the House. Sens. Mary Hodge and Pat Steadman and Reps. Cheri Gerou and Rep.-elect Jon Becker will all be serving their first year on the panel. Gerou, who represents the Evergreen and Conifer area, and Hodge were designated for service last spring and have been getting ready, but it will still be a lot of work for them. Becker, who was just elected, will be the first freshman to serve on the JBC since Bernie Buescher in 2005.
The hardest legislative issues during any economic downturn are those involving the budget, and the combination of it being the third bad year in a row, a JBC split evenly by party and a committee that will need to get a lot of on the job training means it will be even harder in 2011.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.