Common Sense Policy Roundtable looks toward 2020

BY FREDA MIKLIN GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER The state budget has tripled in the past two decades. It was $9.265 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2001 (July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001) and is $30.67 billion in fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020). Twenty years ago, the state’s population was 4.3 million. It has grown steadily since then, reaching 5.8 million in 2019, an increase of 35 percent. At the Dec. 11 meeting of the Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR) , a “non-profit free-enterprise think tank dedicated to the protection and promotion of Colorado’s economy, whose mission is to research and promote common sense solutions for the most pressing public policy issues facing Colorado,” Chris Brown, CSPR’s director of policy and research, pointed to the changes in priorities over the period as evidenced by spending of all revenue, derived from income taxes, sales and use taxes, fees, cash funds, and federal funds. Federal funds are federal tax revenue allocated to Colorado. It provided 29 percent of the state’s budget in FY 2020. Cash funds consist of special taxes collected as a result of constitutional amendments, which are not specifically allocated and not subject to the limitations of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, e.g., excise taxes on marijuana not for designated purposes. In FY 2001, K-12 education absorbed 25 percent of state general fund dollars. Health care policy and financing followed at 21 percent, and higher education commanded 19 percent of state revenues. Transportation’s share was 4 percent of the total. By FY 2020, health care policy and financing had ballooned to 35 percent of general fund expenditures, K-12 education had fallen to 20 percent, higher education was down six points to 13 percent, and transportation had fallen to a paltry 2 percent of the total. With population having grown 35 percent between 2001 and 2019, it is no wonder that there have been multiple attempts to get taxpayer approval to increase taxes to fund transportation and education over the past few years, such as this year’s Proposition CC  to add money to the budget for all three categories of spending. Last year’s two separate ballot measures each sough voter approval to provide new money for roads and transportation. Voters rejected all three. CSPR invited news reporters Shaun Boyd of CBS 4 Denver, Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal, and Joey Bunch of Colorado Politics to weigh in on the politics of the state’s budget challenges. Bunch noted that elections in off-years, such as 2019, draw older voters, while presidential election years like 2020 see more young people turn out. Though that will influence the voting patterns, Bunch doesn’t expect Democrats to lose control of either the state house or the state senate in 2020. Sealover believes the message from our Democratic state legislators is that we don’t have enough money to fix K-12 or higher education or transportation, while Republicans in the legislature hear the voters responding that they believe we do have enough money if we allocate it differently. Boyd thinks that when they rejected all three efforts to increase funding in 2018 and 2019, the voters were saying, “Spend more on transportation and education from the resources you have and maybe we’ll give you more.” Looking toward the upcoming legislative session, Sealover believes paid family leave, just approved for federal employees as part of the National Defense Appropriation Act, is the most significant piece of unfinished business from 2019 that will be back in 2020. He believes even Governor Pois is uncomfortable with the size of the program that some Democrats have proposed. Sealover thinks the governor would like to see it handled in a similar manner to workers’ compensation insurance. He sees the question looming over the upcoming 2020 legislative session as, “How much will Democrats demand of private employers?” Boyd shares that concern. She concluded, “This isn’t going to be a great session for business owners.” Kristin Strohm, CSPR president and CEO, posed the question, “Does the governor have different priorities than the Speaker of the House (KC Becker)? Sealover responded, “The governor’s priority is education. He wants to add money for pre-K.” He observed, “We aren’t talking about transportation. There’s not a single bill for transportation. They say we can’t pass anything statewide on transportation so let’s let local government try to see what they can do.” Bunch observed wryly, “Colorado voters like Republican ideas. They just don’t like Republicans.” Looking to 2020, he predicted that there will be lots of ballot issues because it’s a presidential election year and  “people run ballot issues to get people out to vote!” Fmiklin.villager@gmail.com
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