Bill Ritter: Governor turns in a tight budget |

Bill Ritter: Governor turns in a tight budget

Bill Ritter
Vail, CO, Colorado

As we all know, the national and international economies have entered uncharted waters. We have never seen such a challenging and uncertain set of economic circumstances in our lifetime.

Fortunately, Colorado is weathering the storm better than most states, thanks to our new energy economy and other knowledge-based industries of the future like aerospace, bioscience and technology, as well as our economic mainstays of tourism, agriculture and natural gas.

Nevertheless, Colorado will not escape these gale-force economic headwinds unscathed. They are simply too strong. That’s why I have imposed a hiring freeze, frozen new construction projects and taken several other precautionary steps to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure that state government can keep providing essential public services.

On Nov. 1, I submitted my proposed fiscal year 2009-10 budget, which takes effect July 1, 2009, to the Legislature’s bipartisan Joint Budget Committee.

This balanced budget request continues to tighten state government’s belt, gives us maximum flexibility should economic conditions worsen, and allows us to stimulate Colorado’s economy by investing in job creation, job training, business development and education.

A government’s budget should reflect the priorities, values and goals of the community ” in this case, the community of Colorado. That’s how I approached previous budgets, and it’s how we crafted this proposal.

The principles are the same: Make strategic investments in the people and institutions that make Colorado strong ” our economy, students, families and businesses.

Support our schools, colleges and universities so that our children enter the work force prepared for 21st century jobs. Ensure that government legitimately intersects with where people struggle and provides essential services to military veterans, retirees, people on Medicaid, people with developmental disabilities and others who, through no fault of their own, must rely on vital government services.

This time we find ourselves in more dire economic circumstances than in previous years. A budget should reflect priorities, and it should also reflect realities.

Therefore, I have proposed a 4.98 percent cap on General Fund growth, well below the statutorily allowed 6 percent maximum. We would set aside the remaining 1 percent into an unprecedented $77 million reserve fund.

If these funds are not needed to keep the budget balanced, then they would be used to create a permanent reserve and to invest in bridge repair and replacement and economic-development activities such as job creation, job training and business development.

I have also proposed an additional $5 million stimulus package to invest in our economy, grow new jobs and keep Colorado businesses strong.

A strong transportation system is one vital component to a strong statewide economy. But in the 2009-10 budget, we expect to see a nearly one-third decline in transportation funding, not because transportation is a low priority, but because of a massive reduction in federal funding and because state revenue streams are falling and losing buying power.

Transportation funding in 2009-10 will take a double-hit because of Colorado’s complicated transportation funding scheme. Transportation is the last bucket to fill in the budgetary process, and when revenues are down, the bucket stays empty.

We need a stable, predictable and sufficient revenue stream for transportation. This is why I have made this issue a top priority and have been working so hard to identify a long-term sustainable transportation funding source. A year ago, my Blue Ribbon Transportation Panel described this as a “quiet crisis.” The crisis has just gotten louder.

I look forward to working with the Legislature and other stakeholders to devise a practical solution, because Colorado’s economy, Colorado’s competitiveness and Colorado’s future depend on a modern, efficient and safe transportation system.

This is a conservative budget at an uncertain and challenging time for our state and our country. It keeps spending in check while making strategic short-, middle- and long-term investments in our economy, in our human capital and in our future.

It continues a very focused economic-development strategy and will ensure that we are well-positioned for growth when this economic downturn becomes an upturn.

Gov. Ritter presented his 2009-10 budget request to the Joint Budget Committee last week.

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