Budgetary Oddities

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Budgetary Oddities

by Ari Armstrong, July 7, 2005

I've been reviewing the Colorado state budget as described by Senate Bill 05-209. It's like Kafka meets your most boring high school teacher. The state economists revised the budget by nearly half a billion dollars to adjust for double-counting. Half a billion here, half a billion there... And these are the people who actually have some idea of what's going on.

How many Coloradans know that there are 22 state departments? Well, now you're one of those people. How many Coloradans can name even three of those departments? How many can name even one? I'd be willing to bet that not one in a thousand can name half of them, much less describe even vaguely what they do. A veritable Multitude of new Offices.

Most of the budget is so generic that it says little about how the money is actually spent. So it's hard to get much of a sense of dollar flows just from the budget. The budget casts shadows on Plato's cave. It is written by professional politicians and bureaucrats and basically inaccessible to the average citizen.

Yet a few oddities caught my eye. Here I'll describe but one of them.

The Department of Human Services is budgeted $1,782,903,863. We'll call it $1.8 billion. It runs from page 88 to page 124 in SB-209, including the notes. Some of the notes were scratched out by Governor Bill Owens. Not that Owens found even a single expense to cut. But he can veto notes like nobody's business. We can all rest easier at night knowing that Owens found the political will to veto, for instance, note 58 on page 116, which states, "The Department is requested to provide to the Joint Budget Committee, by November 1, 2005, information concerning the gross amount of payments to child welfare service providers..."

The budget for Human Services is subdivided into eleven main sections. For example, the first section is the Executive Director's Office. "General administration" consumes $35,328,862, while the "special purpose" is allocated $7,809,643.

The seventh section is the Office of Self Sufficiency.

Paging Mr. Orwell.

The budget for the Office of Self Sufficiency is again broken into subsections (A) through (E). Section (A) covers administration, allocated $2,402,103. Of that amount, $493,094 comes from general funds, while $1,909,009 comes from federal funds. Note a explains, "Of this amount, $1,044,383 shall be from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Block Grant and $864,626 shall be from various sources of federal funds." I for one am much relieved that that's been straightened out.

Section (B) is for "Colorado Works Program" ($195,796,214). Section (C) is for "Special Purpose Welfare Programs" ($43,824,674). Section (D) is for "Child Support Enforcement" ($13,349,375). Section (E) is for "Disability Determination Services" ($16,086,519).

Arguably child-support enforcement is a form of contract enforcement, and thus a contributer to self sufficiency. And Section (B) includes some funds for "domestic violence training," arguably part of law enforcement. But it's unclear why the Department of Human Services, rather than some agency that deals specifically with the enforcement of the laws, is responsible for such items.

But much of the budget for the Office of Self Sufficiency funds welfare programs. Silly me. I always thought "self sufficiency" means you don't take welfare handouts from the state.

Much of the budget for the Office of Self Sufficiency comes from federal funds. First, national politicians force Coloradans to hand over their money to the Internal Revenue Service. These national politicians then give some of this money to the state of Colorado, though usually with certain strings attached. Then, Colorado legislators whine about how they don't have much control over the money, because they are (though they don't often use the word) being blackmailed by national politicians (despite the apparent restraints on the national government described by the U.S. Constitution).

The total budget for Colorado's Office of Self Sufficiency is $271,458,885. According to the census, the per-capita income for Colorado in 1999 was $24,049. USA Data Engine puts the "average annual salary" in Colorado at $40,980. So the Office of Self Sufficiency takes an amount of resources out of the productive economy equal to the per capita income of 11,288 people or the salary of 6,624 people. Might it be worth noting that taking people's money away from them makes them less self sufficient and less able to pay other people for their work?

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