Colorado: GOP lawmakers want Ritter budget documents
Associated Press Writer
DENVER – Republican state lawmakers say they’re frustrated after Gov. Bill Ritter refused to sit down with them and discuss budget cuts he plans to announce later this month.
Last week, Ritter’s chief legal counsel, Trey Rogers, rejected a formal request from Republican leaders for a list of budget cuts recommended by the governor’s staff. A copy of the letter was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
In the letter, the Democratic governor said he is withholding the list because it’s a “work product” that he used in making decisions, and releasing it would “chill the flow” of information from his staff. Rogers told legislative leaders Ritter needs to keep the recommendations confidential “to ensure that elected officials can receive candid, unvarnished recommendations and advice in the course of making critical decisions.”
Ritter said he will decide by the end of this month on further budget cuts based on recommendations from his staff.
Republicans contend that Ritter may have a good legal argument for withholding the documents but argue that he has a responsibility to involve lawmakers in the process.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said Ritter is depriving lawmakers of the information they need to make informed decisions as the state struggles to cut $240 million from this year’s budget.
“No one knows how spending can be reduced better than these department heads,” Penry said.
Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said the budget process is different this year because lawmakers are out of session and the state constitution requires the governor to make sure the budget is balanced until lawmakers return in January.
“It’s the governor’s responsibility to keep the budget in balance when they’re not in session and that’s what the governor is doing,” he said.
Dreyer also said Penry is “playing politics,” using the issue as a springboard in his campaign for governor against Ritter.
Republicans countered that Ritter is the one playing politics, making critical decisions on budget cuts based on political fallout and not what they believe were candid recommendations from his staff.
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, a Democrat from Denver and a member of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, which sets the state’s spending priorities, said lawmakers can get the information they need from state budget analysts and they don’t need the governor’s help making cuts.
In a formal letter sent to Ritter on Sept. 8, Penry and Republican House Leader Mike May of Parker demanded the list under the Colorado Open Records Act, giving the governor three days to hand over the records.
“As equal partners in the budget process, we continue to believe that the legislature is entitled to review these recommendations. These are difficult economic times that will require a wholesale examination of government’s spending priorities. While you may have rejected some of the ideas put forth by the Cabinet, some members of the General Assembly may think those same recommendations have value,” Penry and May told Ritter.
The formal request was issued after Ritter ignored a request in August for the list after he promised to go through his budget line by line to identify possible cuts.
“As a coequal branch of government, we think members of the General Assembly ought to have that same opportunity,” May and Penry told Ritter.
In September, Ritter issued an executive order for the first round of cuts, telling state agencies to cut up to $320 million by the end of June 2010. He told lawmakers the cuts are nonnegotiable.
Following a dismal followup economic forecast in September, Ritter said the state will have to cut another $240 million from the budget for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.
He said the state has already cut $1.8 billion and reduced spending by 10.4 percent and he promised to try to be thoughtful and compassionate with the new round of cutbacks.