Senators discuss budget cuts, energy, education during Craig visit |

Senators discuss budget cuts, energy, education during Craig visit

Collin Smith

— As told by Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, the state Legislature has no small tasks in front of it.

“In a broad concept, we want to make Colorado the best place in the nation to raise a child,” Shaffer said.

The two stopped briefly Thursday in Craig as part of a statewide trek to gather opinions and ideas from residents all over, especially those outside their normal districts, who Morse and Shaffer are not as familiar with.

The two Senate leaders said their goal for Colorado means quality education from kindergarten through college, well-paying jobs readily available and affordable and accessible health care.

At the same time, revenue projections show the state budget must be cut by $400 million for this fiscal year, which ends in June 2010, and then another $500 million for the next fiscal year from July 2010 to June 2011, Morse said.

But, the cycle of cuts shouldn’t last forever, he added.

“The indicators into July 2010 show an economic up-tick,” Morse said. “The problem is that the one-time mechanisms – yes, like recovery dollars and cash transfers we used to cover certain programs – are going away. So the revenue is going down this year.”

The cuts will not be light, either.

Colorado is around 46th or lower out of all states in terms of public funding for different services, such as education and health care, Morse said.

With little funding to begin with, he said cutting almost $1 billion in two fiscal years will not be easy for many.

To give an example, Morse said cutting $900 million from the state general fund is the equivalent of closing one in five public schools across the state, the state prison system, the Colorado Department of Human Services or eliminating all higher education funding.

“The order of magnitude is big,” he said.

At the same time the Legislature faces the task of balancing the state budget. However, legislators don’t want to be whiners, Shaffer said.

“The reason our revenue is down is because people out there are hurting,” he said. “We need to make the state involved in ways to get people back to work.”

As that mission pertains to economic development in Northwest Colorado and the energy industry, Morse said the Legislature intends to develop a statewide strategy for natural gas, including transitioning state vehicles from gasoline- to natural gas-burning engines.

Shaffer added there has been a lot of discussion about building up Colorado’s pipeline infrastructure to move natural gas from the Rocky Mountain region onto the national market.

Strengthening the state’s pipeline infrastructure may be one step in encouraging the energy industry to invest in Colorado.

In the past, energy companies have said one of the reasons they pulled out of the state was because there wasn’t enough pipeline capacity to move all the natural gas produced in Colorado to other markets.

Company officials said this created a price bubble in which the Rocky Mountain states ended up flooded with locally-produced natural gas.

Because of that, companies had to sell gas produced here at a cheaper price than gas produced in other states, which meant companies couldn’t make as much money working in Colorado.

The senators also touched on how the state can improve public education funding to make it more equitable for districts across the state.

The Legislature recognizes that the School Finance Act, which instituted a formula that decides how much each district is funded per pupil, is not as equitable as it could be, Shaffer said.

In response, he said the state formed a legislative committee this summer to address how to renovate the funding formula.

Any changes to the system could have large impacts on Moffat County, which has been one of the lowest funded districts in Colorado for the past several years.

Although the senators have left Craig, they said anyone is welcome to contact them or any other legislator whenever they wish.

“The legislative process is a dynamic process,” Shaffer said. “Democracy is alive.”

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