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Cuts, changes and taxation

The Long Bill has made its way through the Colorado Senate, with that body passing the bill to the House for action this week. The bill, which includes approximately $200 million in cuts to K-12 education, could meet with opposition in the House, with some representatives promising a fight.

Our local elected officials at the state Capitol — Sen. Ellen Roberts and Rep. J. Paul Brown — reflect on the process in their columns printed this week in The SUN.

Roberts notes that, “To get to a balanced budget, given the current economy, Colorado can’t avoid cuts to education, roads, healthcare and many other services.”

True, as far as it goes. But the economy is but part of the story.

Brown laments the use of severance tax revenues to balance the budget: “I’m disappointed that oil and gas mineral impact money, or severance tax, was used to balance the budget. These are moneys that have historically gone back to areas impacted by oil and gas development to pay for a number of worthy projects.”

True.

One representative in Denver heralded the fact the proposed budget would cut 750 state jobs and members of both parties will find something to despise in the works. The bill makes some Dems edgy, with cuts to education and state programs to aid the needy, and for the fact it maintains $100 million in the State Education Fund and allows for a 4-percent increase to the state reserve fund. The budget reduces Medicaid payments to physicians who treat patients under the program designed to provide medical care to the poor.

Republicans sacrificed an amendment that would have allowed local governments and school districts to undertake a PERA swap, reducing the take-home pay of workers covered by PERA.

It is a hassle for the legislators, indeed, and for the residents of the state in that what follows in the wake of cuts are fewer programs, less attention to things like roads, fewer much-needed infrastructure projects.

That there should be a constant call to legislators to trim unnecessary costs and programs, that those legislators should be ever wary of spending proposals and careful with the taxpayers’ money, goes without saying.

But, fiscal conservatism is not synonymous with deprivation or an abrogation of a basic social contract. It is not a means of avoiding the common good to the benefit of the privileged or the powerful. It is a way to ensure proper and effective use of funds. It does not always preclude the need for additional funds.

Our fiscal problems in Colorado are caused in large part by the tension between a constitutional requirement to balance the budget and three amendments to the Constitution. And by unwillingness on the part of many Coloradans to see that fiscal care and concern must sometimes accompany an increase in revenues, when an increase is necessary to produce the greatest good for the greatest number.

We need to rid ourselves of the trap set by TABOR, Amendment 23 and the Gallagher Amendment (with its effect on commercial and residential property taxation). We should retain a constitutional mandate to balance the budget and put in place a simple requirement that voters approve any tax increase. We need tax incentives for businesses and we need to simultaneously close tax loopholes that thwart revenue flow. Coloradans must clearly determine what they want in the way of infrastructure and programs, and resolve to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to achieve the goals. Even if, on occasion, that sacrifice demands we pay slightly more tax as well as endure cuts to spending. Karl Isberg

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