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House Republicans
Colorado House Republican Leader Patrick Neville, at right, and Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist talk about overhauling how the state puts together its budget. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)
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Colorado House Republicans want to overhaul budget-writing process

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House Minority Leader Patrick Neville says it’s time to overhaul the way the state budget is written, putting the power to ferret out waste and makes cuts in the hands of committees, not the six-member Joint Budget Committee.

What started out as a mid-session discussion of the wins and losses for the House GOP this week veered into a critical examination of how the state spends taxpayers’ dough.

“We need to fundamentally transform how we do the budget process,” Neville said. “We need to start from the very get-go and do it like a family does it. We start with what our priority is.”

For him, that’s transportation.

In other words, liberal social programs, back of the line, if Republicans are setting the priorities.

“Just saying we’re going to cut this isn’t fair,” Neville said. “We’re trying to actually prioritize what we’re  going to spend (money) on, then start with that and move on to other programs and decide on funding those.”

So liberal social programs don’t really get cut. They just don’t get funded in the legislative musical chairs.

House Republicans want to blow up the Joint Budget Committee and move more of the responsibility for spending recommendations to the committees of reference. Those committees also could ferret out waste, from the GOP point of view.

The way it works now, the Joint Budget Committee holds hearings, examines documents, writes the budget and submits it to the full legislature. When it arrives it usually moves quickly to passage.

“I think we have a problem when the JBC gets together and does a budget without having much input from the committees of record,” Neville said. “It’s business as usual the way we’ve been doing it. And we say, ‘Well, this is what the statute says, so we have to fund it to that.'”

He pointed out, as he often does, that the state’s proposed $28.5 billion budget next year is the largest in state history.

“We have more money year after year and we shouldn’t be hearing this nonsense talk that we’re in a budget crisis,” Neville said.

The topic was transportation, which deserves a bigger piece of the existing state revenue pie, not an infusion of new taxes. Wednesday House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Senate President Kevin Grantham dropped a transportation bill that would ask voters to approve a 0.62 percent sales tax increase to raise $667 million a year for transporation.

“We’re wasting so much money in this state with all these boondoggles, transit boondoggles, too,” Neville said. “We need to get some actual concrete. Let’s lay some concrete in this state and actually get people moving. That’s what’s going to solve the problem.”

House Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial said Colorado voters haven’t been warm to state tax increases and government spending might be the reason why.

“We have to look at our track record in terms of going back to the voters time after time after time and asking for more revenue,” he  said.

He said that discussion should happen jointly with one about how the state could spend less.

“I think there is consensus in the halls of this building and certainly consensus in this state that there is waste that happens in our state budget,” he said. “The question is do we have the processes here in our legislative process to find that waste.

“We, as a caucus, would like to have a conversation about improving the budgetary processes, so that when we go to the voters and ask for revenue, we truly have exhausted all other avenues.”

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