As so many of you predicted, the 2010 election season is now in full swing on the proxy battlefield of the Colorado General Assembly. There are a number of in-points for today’s discussion, we’ll start right off with gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper’s remarks when asked about the budget yesterday–as reported by The Spot:
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who is running to become governor, in radio appearances today declined to to take a stance on Gov. Bill Rittter’s push to elminate select tax breaks for businesses.
“Here is what I told the governor,” Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said. “‘When I’m mayor, and I’m in the middle of trying to work through the budget, the thing I hate is having other elected officials come in and tell us what we should do and what we shouldn’t do. And there is going to be a long campaign. I’ll have plenty of time. Let’s let them get through this.”
Republicans have hammered at Hickenlooper for declining to state a position on Governor Ritter’s proposed revenue increases…
“Mayor ‘Hickenritter’ is a formally announced candidate for governor but nowhere to be found on the Ritter tax increase proposals being debated in the state capitol this week,” Colorado Republican State Chairman Dick Wadhams said in a prepared statement. “How can the presumed Democratic nominee for governor not take a postion on Ritter’s tax increase schemes.”
We’ll begin by conceding that some people will not find Hickenlooper’s answer satisfactory. As has been pointed out about his opponent Scott McInnis for months, you should be able to express an opinion on the issues most directly pertinent to the office you’re running for.
But we’ll also say this: Hickenlooper’s answer is more thoughtful, and more legitimate, than that provided by his opponent on the same subject. It’s a most ironic attack coming from a party whose candidate for governor has been lampooned, by Democrats as well as editorial boards around the state, over truly silly evasions on his plans for the state budget. It’s a pretty astounding turnaround for McInnis to ‘urge’ Hickenlooper to take any stand on the budget after not only failing to articulate his own alternatives, but declaring it would be ‘at least a year’ before he can do so.
We read in this same article that McInnis is urging Hickenlooper to sign on to his letter opposing wholesale the suspension of a few targeted tax credits that have been proposed to balance the budget this year. This illustrates another very important difference–Democrats have not actually claimed that McInnis never talks about the budget: more precisely, they say he throws bombs from the sidelines when politically convenient, criticizing this line item or defending that exemption, but dodges the responsibility to provide a workable alternative.
And “Exhibit A” for ‘no workable alternatives’ is front and center in today’s Denver Post:
A rancorous legislative session, aggravated by a budget crisis and a crucial election in November, took another turn Thursday when Senate Republicans called for across-the-board budget cuts instead of a Democratic plan to eliminate tax credits and exemptions.
Republicans offered few specifics on places to cut, saying that should be up to Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter. Democrats countered that the GOP proposal was an attempt to punt the problem to the governor.
This year, the state is bridging a $2.2 billion shortfall and is looking to fill a $1.3 billion hole in the next fiscal year’s budget…
Republicans unveiled their call for across-the-board cuts at an afternoon news conference.
Their proposal calls for a 0.24 percent cut in payroll costs in the current year, which they said would generate $17.8 million, obviating the need for fast-tracking the elimination of the tax exemptions.
And, Senate Republicans said, the governor should impose a 4.39 percent across-the-board cut in general-fund spending among departments in the 2010-11 year. That would save $306.5 million, they said…
Asked which departments they would cut, Republicans repeatedly declined to give specific examples, saying Ritter would have the authority to make those choices…
“Just saying, ‘Let the governor do it,’ it’s the chicken way out,” said Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. “He’s given us his budget proposal.”
Democrats also disputed Republicans’ estimated savings, saying that a 0.24 percent savings on payroll in the current fiscal year, which is 7/12ths over, would yield only $3.3 million.
According to chats we’ve had, it took about fifteen minutes after this press conference was held to start pulling these numbers apart and discounting them as completely bogus. For one thing, Rep. Ferrandino’s point about the present fiscal year being more than half over is exactly right: the GOP’s “immediate fix” begins short somewhere in the neighborhood of 60% from what they claim.
Secondly, and this gets a little more complicated so stay with us, a large percentage of the “across the board cuts” proposed by the GOP are fictional or impossible. More than half of the total involved for both this and next year is not even under the control of the legislature or executive branch–mostly higher education and judicial expenses. And of the amount that can actually be legislated, only a fraction is money actually spent from the state’s General Fund, which is where the savings or increased revenue must be realized to balance the budget. All told, the GOP’s estimate of $300 million saved dwindles down to just over 10% of that figure when nonpartisan staff explains how things actually work. It doesn’t even begin to solve the problem.
Bottom line: Republicans knew going into this legislative session that they could spike the process with fair-sounding nonsense, and make political hay out of the difficult budget balancing work the legislature must do in this recession. It’s not the responsible course, but it is the politically expedient one and many people expected it. With this disingenuous nonstarter of a proposal, and Scott McInnis on a hypocritical accompanying sound-bite warpath, all of it as vague as possible to keep voters unaware that it’s a load of crap–they’re doing exactly what you thought they would.
As for Hickenlooper? Well, this is what he signed up for, silly season and all. We’re not worried about his ability to deal with this stuff in the long term–all long as he keeps communicating thoughtfully, and as long as the press doesn’t uncritically reprint every unworkable pipe dream Josh Penry scratches out on a napkin. ‘Deferential’ beats straight-up lying, and not by a little.