State employees and agencies are practically turning blue from holding their breaths while waiting to see how much money their respective departments will lose in next year’s budget.
They’ll have to wait a little longer, however.
Though the Joint Budget Committee was supposed to present a budget to the state Senate by last week, it missed that deadline and it’s unclear when it might deliver one.
“We’re trying to move as quickly as we can,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, who sits on the JBC. “It’s an incremental process. You can’t make one big decision and then it all falls together.”
Lambert said the JBC is dealing with an “historic” budget problem — more than a $1 billion gap in revenue and conflicting budget forecasts. That means it’s not sure just how much money it has to work with.
A budget forecast released by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office earlier this month said the state will have $161 million more than officials had previously thought. But the JBC found on Tuesday that the calculations were off, and the actual number will be closer to $75 million.
That’s a big deal when so many programs are on the block, said Lambert.
It also doesn’t account for partisan priorities, said Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. Democrats are more interested in protecting education funding, while Republicans want to focus more on growing the economy.
For example, Morse said the so-called “vendor fee” that businesses get for collecting state sales taxes will be a sticking point. The “fee” is worth $65 million to the state, and Republicans want it re-instated.
“They would argue that, hey, we could put that $65 million back into the economy and generate jobs, which I would disagree with,” said Morse.
House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, made the same point.
“Do we agree more should be put into education? We do. But what kind of relief are we going to give small business? That’s another philosophical issue,” she said, citing the “vendor fee.”
That means that the budget has a long way to go, since Democrats run the Senate and Republicans control the House.
And because JBC members will resist changes to the budget they introduce, it changes typical party-line math in both chambers, said Morse. The JBC has three Republicans and three Democrats, so the parties in each chamber may have to offset that many votes on any amendments they propose. That could mean more delays.
Still, JBC members are hopeful that the Senate can get started next week.
“There are always glimmers and there are always setbacks, but I think there are more glimmers than setbacks, and I think we’ll get (a budget done) by the end of this week,” said Rep. Mark Ferrandino, R-Denver, who sits on the JBC.