Bernie Buescher's Budget Bluster
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on August 8, 2005.
Rep. Bernie Buescher apparently believes he can ride Chicken Little's coattails. But the sky is not falling. This year's budget is the largest budget in state history. The Colorado economy is already recovering. Politicians had so much money to spend even during the recent alleged "crisis" that they found funding for ceramic dildos, booze for the University of Colorado, fun-colored condoms, and Viagra for sex offenders.
Recent polls show most Coloradans are skeptical about the alleged need for Referenda C and D, the biggest spending hike in state history. That skepticism is warranted. If there is any "crisis" involving Colorado's budget, it is a crisis of legislative profligacy. What we need is less self-serving hyperbole from tax-and-spend politicians and more legislative responsibility with our tax dollars.
Let's examine some of Buescher's claims, as reported by local media.
Buescher's Bluster: "The budget is a disaster."
According to figures released by the state economists from Legislative Council, Colorado's budget has increased every year since 1992. In fiscal year 1992-93, the total budget was $6.34 billion. In 2005-06, it is $14.61 billion, up more than 4% from last year. When Colorado's politicians collect more taxes, some call it a "budget cut," a "disaster," or a "structural deficit."
It is true that the general fund -- that portion of the budget most open to legislative control -- took a hit in 2001-02 and 2002-03. But even the general fund has increased steadily since then, and next year it is expected to rise to its highest level in state history at $6.9 billion. Even when voters reject Referenda C and D, the general fund is expected to grow to $8.2 billion by 2009-10.
Yet according to Buescher, an expected 27% general-fund increase from now till 2009-10 is a "disaster."
The state economists also predict annual increases for "total funds available" and "actual appropriations."
However, with Referenda C and D, one item will drop dramatically. To zero, in fact. That is refunds currently mandated by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. While predictions vary, the economists at Legislative Council predict the total TABOR refunds from 2005-06 to 2009-10 will be $3.6 billion. That's extra tax money that will be returned to taxpayers -- under current rules. Under Referenda C and D, the amount returned to taxpayers would be zero, zip, nada.
Buescher's Bluster: Spending for Medicaid and K-12 education is beyond legislative control.
According to the AP, "The state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which runs the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor, paid $2,013 for Viagra and similar drugs for the five registered [sex] offenders..."
Sen. Dan Grossman, one of Buescher's fellow Democrats, told the AP, "The fact that our system is so loose and so ad-hoc that it would allow sex offenders to receive sexual enhancers at public expense is not that surprising, but it [is] outrageous nonetheless."
If Colorado's Medicaid system is "loose" and "ad-hoc," might it be a good idea to look deeper into possible abuses? A July 18 report by the New York Times revealed massive fraud in New York's system, and apparently a similar review is warranted for Colorado.
Priority Colorado, a paper from the Independence Institute, argues that the legislature could -- if it had the will -- find $45 million to $90 million in savings in Medicaid. The legislature can indeed guide the program, and it should do so, rather than make excuses and request even more tax dollars.
Because of Amendment 23, spending for K-12 education is increased faster than the rate of inflation even during times of economic trouble. The legislature could refer a measure to the ballot next year to solve this problem.
Buescher's Bluster: "We're last in everything you can think of."
Give us a break. Buescher's comment is wrong for two reasons. First, quality of life in Colorado remains high. Second, Buescher suggests that moving ahead requires taking more tax dollars out of the productive economy and giving them to politicians to spend. The reality is that Referenda C and D will only dampen Colorado's economic recovery and take more money off the tables and out of the wallets of Colorado families.
In a March 25 paper for the Tax Foundation, Chris Atkins finds that Colorado is the 13th healthiest state in the country. We rank 22nd in average teacher salary. And we are 27th in K-12 spending. While we see little relationship between funds spent on public schools and results, at least Buescher should tone down his Chicken-Little rhetoric.
The Tax Foundation also notes that Colorado ranks 14th in total tax burden, in part because of high local taxes.
Bernie Buescher's budget bluster notwithstanding, Colorado does not need the massive spending hike of Referenda C and D. Instead, we need legislators prepared to shoulder the responsibility of spending the already-increasing budget sensibly.