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Publish Date: 4/19/2005

Budget proposal headed to ballot


DENVER — House supporters of the proposed “Colorado Economic Recovery Act” challenged fellow lawmakers Monday to campaign vigorously for passage of the package of fiscal-fix measures next fall.

“Vote for this measure and encourage all of your constituents to support it in November,” urged Nederland Democratic Rep. Tom Plant, vice chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said the best way to kill the package would be for half the Legislature to pit itself against the other half, especially if opponents of the November ballot referenda take the position that Coloradans can’t trust lawmakers.

While it remains to be seen how many House members will hit the campaign trail on behalf of the proposal, they voted 46-19 on Monday to approve the centerpiece of the package.

House Bill 1194, from Romanoff and Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Larimer County, will ask voters’ permission to let the state keep and spend a projected $3.1 billion that otherwise would be refunded to Coloradans under the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits growth in government revenue.

State senators voted 26-9 on April 4 to approve the final version of HB1194.

During renewed House debate over the bill, Romanoff argued that under the budget stabilization proposal, Colorado “will continue to maintain one of the leanest state governments in America,” as well as one of the lowest state tax burdens and the nation’s tightest revenue-and-spending restrictions.

Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, likened TABOR’s budget constraints to the collar an owner might put on a puppy. He said the collar needs to be let out by notches as the dog grows.

White, a supporter of HB1194, said it “may not be the perfect proposal,” but it “will allow a little loosening of the collar we have put around growth of our government.”

Without that, he said, TABOR threatens to strangle the state government’s ability to keep pace with the economy.

Critics of HB1194, which is expected to be called Referendum C on November’s ballot, continued to say the Legislature should impose more self-restraint and cut the budget to live within available revenues, rather than boosting revenue by asking voters to forgo TABOR refunds.

“Belt tightening is the best for Colorado,” said Colorado Springs Republican Rep. David Schultheis.

He said lawmakers should look at reducing state programs, reevaluating state salaries and benefits and selling state properties and state rights to tobacco settlement income.

Among those voting for HB1194 on Monday were Reps. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, Dale Hall, R-Greeley, Tom Plant, D-Nederland, Alice Madden, D-Boulder, and Bill Berens, R-Broomfield. One of those voting against it was Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.

John Fryar can be reached by e-mail at jfryar@times-call.com.

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