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A sad start to a busy legislative week

Last week brought life in the legislature face to face with the real world on a couple of different fronts.

We began the week with two funerals, one for Tom Clements, the head of Colorado's corrections system, who was murdered by a recently released inmate, and the second one for David Brophy, the beloved father of our colleague, Sen. Greg Brophy, of Wray.

Each service was a fitting tribute to men who had lived life differently, but very well. Both had touched many in a positive way, lending a helping hand to those around them. It was a sad start to the week, but a privilege to share in those moments with their families and friends and to collectively pause in our busy lives to reflect on their contributions and to honor those who will be missed dearly.

The next couple of days in the Senate were spent reviewing and debating the contents of the Democrats' proposed Colorado budget. While the budget is prepared by a bipartisan committee, the majority party controls the outcome.

This is the seventh budget bill that I have studied and voted on. More often than not, I've voted for the budget bill, but this year, I did not. My vote wasn't based on political rancor or party line adherence, but, as the supporters of the bill stated, a budget reflects priorities and values.

Where I part ways on this year's budget is that I didn't see a budget with a fiscally sound approach to possibly better economic times. I did not see a proposed budget that acknowledged what supporters would admit to on the floor but not in the budget planning. That is, the federal government is cutting back funding to state programs, yet we're growing them as if the spending faucet is still turned on full force.

Blame or credit whichever side of the aisle in Washington, D.C., but sequestration is taking effect now. While the precise consequences are still to be determined, there's no argument that, in a state like Colorado with a significant federal presence, there will be those consequences.

At my request, the budget committee staff quickly identified at least $9.2 million of federal cuts hitting Colorado this year. If I hadn't brought an amendment seeking to reduce the budget by this amount, there would have been no discussion or even acknowledgment that this is happening. My amendment lost and I was disappointed, although not surprised, at how quietly and quickly these expenditures were presumed absorbed into the budget.

The trend of cuts to federal funding of their programs pressed upon the states, without any corresponding relief from federal mandates for these programs, I believe, will accelerate in the coming years and we should apply fiscal discipline in preparing for that. This proposed budget did not do that.

Additionally, Colorado's implementation of the new federal healthcare laws begins in earnest this year, and the associated costs will be very large and complex. Promises of costs savings are based on fuzzy math and hopes, not proven numbers.

Yet one more factor leading to my vote was that this budget spends admittedly one-time receipts as if they, too, will continue to flow indefinitely from the taxpayers' faucet. Water is not the only shortage Colorado faces in the coming years and we should budget accordingly.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado's General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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