DENVER – A bill to repeal the requirement that the state Senate and House approve a joint resolution certifying the estimated annual general fund revenue advanced rapidly through the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday and Senate today – but not without protest.
The urgency of repealing this legal provision is because the Joint Budget Committee hasn’t complied with the legal provision in two years and has no intention of doing so in this session.
“It’s a waste of time,” declared JBC Chair Senator Pat Steadman (D-Denver). “It’s completely superfluous.”
“And one of the many reasons why this should be repealed is that we actually haven’t complied with the law for the past two years,” confessed Steadman. “So why have statutes on the books directing our (budget) process that we have failed to comply with?”
Senate Bill 36 would amend CRS24-75-201.3, scrapping the requirement of the general assembly to pass a joint resolution by Feb. 1 to certify to the controller the estimated general funds available for the next fiscal year.
The bill is sponsored by Steadman and Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen), past chair of the six-member Joint Budget Committee.
Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) asked senators to reject the bill because if the measure is repealed, the budget expenditure tally will be set entirely by the JBC to the exclusion of input from the remaining 94 state Senators and Representatives.
He said the six-member JBC decides how much money the state spends annually and that ultimately drives the Long Bill which sets the budget for the next fiscal year.
“The other 94 of us don’t have any say at all in regards to how much the state of Colorado will be spending in any given year,” said Brophy.
“We go through this kabuki dance sometime in April of trying to amend appropriations in what is known as the Long Bill,” declared Brophy. “But it’s mostly theater because with 40 to 60 proposed amendments, we might actually move a few million dollars around in what is now a $21 billion budget.”
Brophy said that instead of stripping this provision, it should be strengthened to empower the majority of the legislature to have more input in capping the spending figure and how those monies are spent.
Steadman shot back that it’s been a “historic source of tension” among rank-and-file legislators that the JBC spends its time doing nothing but deciding the state budget.
“And the rest of you spend time in this building and I’ve almost forgotten what you do over here,” said Steadman, whose comment provoked audible “groans” from a few senators.
The passage of SB 36, Steadman said, won’t resolve contentious disconnect between the JBC and other legislators, but it will save time and prevent erroneous budget forecasts from being scrutinized by the taxpayers.
Steadman told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that the bill would save staff time and “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-Canon City) 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 had opposed that idea.
“One of our colleagues did express heartburn to me,” said Grantham.
“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,” said Brophy.
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 the disputes over raising the debt ceiling and avoid going over the “fiscal cliff.” They also predicted the state has 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. That agreement, however, decreased the federal estate tax – and that 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.
JBC member Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) referenced these revenue changes today in his remarks in support of SB 36 to the Senate. He said the Feb. 1 deadline for the joint resolution to the controller certifying general fund revenue for the next fiscal year is too early for realistic projections.
In agreement with Steadman, Lambert said the joint resolution should be repealed because it is not only “superfluous” but more like “a letter to Santa Claus” and possibly worse.
“Santa probably does read his mail,” said Lambert, “but I don’t know if the controller actually reads his mail.”