Bill to Exclude Legislators From Approving Revenue Estimates Rankles Some

January 23, 2013

Senator Greg Brophy (R-Wray) said that the bill would give more power to the Joint Budget Committee

DENVER– A bill to repeal the requirement that the state Senate and House approve a joint resolution certifying the estimated annual general fund revenue passed the Senate Finance Committee without a peep of dissent Tuesday – but the change in state statute promises more debate on the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 36 would amend CRS 24-75-201.3, scrapping a requirement that the general assembly pass a joint resolution by Feb. 1 to certify to the controller the estimated general funds available for the next fiscal year.

Having the general assembly certify the estimated annual revenue isn’t necessary according to the bill’s sponsors. Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) and Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen), current and past chair of the six-member Joint Budget Committee, respectively.

“It contains a set of numbers that you really can’t match to anything else except perhaps the December revenue forecast,” said Steadman, adding that the joint resolution isn’t used in the budget process.

“I’m proposing to repeal this to save our staff a little work,” said Steadman. “It’s not like we’re saving a dollar although we might save a few trees or at least a half a ream of paper.”

The bill would have not save taxpayers’ money because the resolution is an offshoot of economic forecasts and projected revenues presented quarterly by Legislative Council and the governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting to the Joint Budget Committee.

The measure gained bipartisan thumbs up from Finance Committee Senators Mike Johnston (D-Denver), Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood), Kevin Grantham (R-CanonCity) and Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs). Absent was Sen. Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge).

Though Steadman said the bill “has got Consent Calendar written all over it” – a move that could have eliminated comments on the Senate floor, Grantham disagreed.

“One of our colleagues did express heartburn to me,” said Grantham.

Senator Greg Brophy (R-Wray) said that the bill would exclude the entire Senate and House lawmakers from a key component of the state budgeting process – and give more power to the JBC.

“Passing SB36 takes away an opportunity for the 94 legislators who are not on the Joint Budget Committee to have sway over the total amount of money being spent by the state each year,” said Brophy.

“This is an effort that further consolidates power into the hands of six members; it would be better policy to make the resolution binding and spread power over a larger group of legislators,” he said.

Colorado Union of Taxpayers President Gregory Golyansky agreed and said the bill would further remove budgeting issues from public awareness.

The joint resolution to approve the estimated general fund revenue “is not particularly onerous,” said Golyansky, who added that CUT would rather have the input of 100 legislators than just six JBC members.

If the issue is saving trees as Steadman quipped, Golyansky said, “That’s ignorant.” The president of CUT said he’d gladly plant trees in exchange for the input of all legislators and transparency for the public.

Golyansky said the only problem with the revenue forecasts by OSPB and Legislative Council economists is that their reports change faster than New Year’s resolutions.

In December, the economists predicted that Congress would resolve disputes over raising the debt ceiling and avoid going over the “fiscal cliff.”  They also predicted the state would have an additional windfall of $156 million this year, and potentially $142 million more than previously projected revenue for Fiscal Year 2013-14 that begins July 1.

Instead the Democrats and Republicans  in Congress struck a deal to postpone the decision to increase the federal debt ceiling for three months, which will cost Colorado.

The state will lose $45 million in estate tax revenue in the current fiscal year that ends in June, and an estimated $100 million in FY 2013-14.

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