Colorado budget's $1.1 billion shortfall: Backseat Budgeter offers taste of task facing legislators

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The Colorado Legislature is wrestling with dozens of messy problems, including that endless, ugly battle between convenience stores and liquor stores. But there is no problem messier than untangling the state budget.

Legislators have no choice but to deal with it: The state constitution requires that Colorado have a balanced budget, and the state is now looking at a billion-dollar shortfall for this year -- with at least $600 million having to be cut this legislative session.

Governor John Hickenlooper submitted his suggestions two weeks ago, with education taking a big hit. Senate president Brandon Shaffer gave Dems a deadline of Monday to come up with their own ideas. But the real work is up to the Joint Budget Committee, and yesterday senator Mary Hodge, the chair of the JBC, and representative Cheri Gerou, vice-chair, gave a taste of just how tough the task is when they joined a panel discussing the Backseat Budgeter.

The interactive, online tool was developed by Engaged Public, a public-policy firm, and Colorado State University's Bighorn Leadership Program; you can try it yourself at It's a clever, if depressing, program, since when it lists options for possible cuts, it also points out the potential for lawsuits. And there's always that warning reminding you of the constitutional demand for a balanced budget -- a real annoyance when you're still hundreds of millions of dollars off.

Which could be why two-thirds of the audience test-driving the Backseat Budgeter ended their exercise by voting for Colorado to go to a graduated income-tax system that would generate $1.1 billion... the amount of the current shortfall.

But that's not an option for the JBC: Any tax increases must go to a vote of the people. And so, after their quick break, the two legislators headed back up the hill to continue crunching real numbers at the Capitol.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "3.2 beer was a way to get liquor quicker, but it's time to prohibit Prohibition beer."

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OK -- I visited the game (or "interactive, online tool"). One can only hope that Hick's handlers have better resources than what is to all intents and purposes a GUI with a bunch of radio buttons tied to a spreadsheet. The game does not begin to encompass our choices; e.g. I contend that we can cut far more deeply from our Gulag budget by releasing people who should not have been sent to prison in the first place, without detrimental effect, but the game has exactly two policy choices which reduce spending in that area: close the Asbestos Unit in Ft. Lyons or cut 10% from staffing, and these are mutually exclusive. We are not constrained by the gross simplifications and assumptions of the game's menu of options unless we imagine that this virtual toy is a completely accurate model of Colorado's economy and government. I don't, but I can believe that some might, especially with encouragement such as CPR and Pat's..


Good job Patty, keep their feet to the fire! I enjoy watching you every Friday on 'Colorado Inside Out'.

The budget deficit is the primary reason these people are in Denver as representatives, but they wait 2 months into the session before starting to address it. Meanwhile, Rep. Levy thinks that a DUI law for THC is the most pressing issue for the people of Colorado.

Tell you what folks (representatives and senators), the budget is specifically referenced in the Colorado Constitution as something that the State government must balance. DUI laws for THC are not in the Colorado Constitution, neither are MMJ laws, so stop procrastinating and playing silly political games and get to work doing your constitutionally mandated duty.

That 9 million dollars Ritter raided from the MMJ registry fund, after raiding 3 million dollars the year before, will probably start to look pretty tempting. I know, I know, it was just a one time thing X 2, but now things are different, because you are killing that goose, it won't lay as big an egg this year, because keeping sick people from feeling better is so much more important than dealing with real issues.

One billion dollars = One thousand million dollars, let that sink in. That is a lot of money to owe and the people are tapped out, our jobs off-shored or downsized or gone, we're madoffed and tired of excuses. Stop the tap dancing. The time for excuses, stalling and kicking the can down the road is over, get to work and do your job.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Strong take, Hermit. Thanks for reading, posting, and watching the boss on TV.

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