Budget on the brain

Northwest Colorado's state legislators say finance issues will dominate upcoming session

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State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden.

— For Sen. Al White, serving in the state Legislature could feel like working in a hair salon.

It’s always time for more cuts.

White, a Hayden Republican, is a member of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. Al­­though he is considering sponsorship of several bills in the 2010 legislative session, set to start Jan. 13, White said this week that he knows where the majority of his time will be spent in the next five months.

“Most of my time this session will be spent the same way it was last time — on the budget,” White said Wednesday. “This year, 2010-11, projects to be just as bad as 09-10 and 08-09.”

White said Colorado’s general fund is facing a $1.2 billion shortfall in 2010-11, after the state cut about $600 million out of the 2008-09 budget and more than $500 million out of the 2009-10 budget.

State Rep. Randy Baum­gard­ner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, also represents Routt County at the state Capitol. Baumgardner agreed with White about the top issue of the 2010 session under the dome in Denver.

“My mind’s on what everybody’s mind is on: the budget,” Baumgardner said Wednesday. “How we’re going to find the money to balance it, how we’re going to control this excessive, out-of-control spending our governor is doing.”

Partisan comments from both sides of the aisle should fly fast in 2010, a midterm election year with a Colorado ballot that includes races for U.S. Senate, governor, treasurer, secretary of state and attorney general, along with five races for the U.S. House in districts across the state and numerous races for seats in the state Legislature, including Baumgardner’s. The Grand County rancher said he plans to run for re-election in 2010.

White said the ballot definitely plays a role in state politics.

“Anytime we have hotly contested races for the governor’s office, it gets to be a little bit weird in the Legislature,” White said, citing “strange bills and votes” that can be more about making a partisan point than bettering the state. “And that’s not to suggest one side will be more weird than the other.”

Nonetheless, White and Baum­­­gardner listed bills they are considering for 2010, beneath the shadows of budget deliberations and political posturing.

White’s include:

■ A bill to repeal late vehicle registration fees instituted by FASTER, a transportation funding bill that became effective July 1 and charges drivers $25 a month for late registration. White said he’ll try to return those fees to a maximum total of $10.

■ A bill that would expand a cell phone fee that helps fund 911 services to prepaid cell phones, which currently are excluded from the 911 fee.

Baumgardner’s include:

■ A bill to revise portions of Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association. Baum­gardner said the bill’s details need to be ironed out but that “it’s got nothing to do with raising or lowering or anything. … It’s got to do with maybe a little bit of restructure.”

■ A bill to expand an agricultural fee break in the FASTER legislation to allow ranchers to qualify for lower fees even if the majority of their income does not come from ranching. “If you’ve got horse trailers and stock trailers and things like that, and if you are involved in agriculture, we’re looking to get you that break,” Baumgardner said.

■ A bill to require residents to record, with a local government, the location of a spouse or family member buried on private property. The bill would prevent unnecessary and costly investigations that can result from the unexpected unearthing of human remains, Baumgardner said, by tracking burials.

■ A bill to create a state parks license plate to benefit Colorado parks.

Gov. Bill Ritter announced in November that $260 million in K-12 funding could be cut from the 2010-11 budget. White said this week that “about $223 million is the number we’re looking at for K-12, from the general fund.”

White said he would have a simple goal in budget talks that sometimes, he said, focus on the Front Range and Denver metro area at the expense of the Western Slope.

“I want to play defense for Northwest Colorado and make sure that whatever cuts are made are made equitably across the state,” he said.

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