It was a sad week in Colorado, after Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper on Feb. 15 proposed severe state budget cuts. If enacted by the Legislature, teachers will lose jobs, students will suffer, four state parks will close and state colleges will see less funding. Everyone will feel it.
By proposing a no-nonsense budget that keeps government within its means, Hickenlooper has quickly shown himself as the fiscal realist he portrayed himself as in the campaign. His proposal slashes $570 million more from the budget than what Democrat former Gov. Bill Ritter proposed.
Along with massive education cuts, Hickenlooper recommends an additional $395 million in general fund reductions and elimination of 263 state positions. State employees would see larger paycheck withholdings to fund their retirement plans.
The least painful cut would involve closure of the 485-bed Fort Lyon Correctional Facility. The Gazette has advocated closing a prison for years, as we dont need them all.
Few people anywhere on the political spectrum desire to see huge sums cut from education. Few rejoice at the closure of state parks. None of this will be fun.
But Hickenlooper has no choice. This is economic reality. State governments cant just print money and live on debt. The state is restricted by the amount of wealth produced by the private sector, and Hickenlooper a businessman gets it. Hes not pining for a tax increase. Taxpayers cant afford more taxes because the economy remains recessed and unemployment is high.
It accentuates the reason that we have to change the culture of the state, Hickenlooper said. We have to find ways to make the entire culture of the state more pro-business.
That means we stop bashing developers while happily enjoying the neighborhoods they built. It means we look at amending our state constitution, to eliminate The Gallagher amendment a law that interacts with the Taxpayers Bill of Rights in a manner that causes businesses to pay property taxes at a rate almost four times greater than what is paid by residential owners. It means we start looking at ways to eliminate the business personal property tax, which penalizes business owners for investing in capital acquisitions that create jobs.
The cultural change Hickenlooper wants which represents the only hope for prosperity means Coloradans need to start talking with owners of their favorite businesses. Ask them what city, county and state regulations are holding them back. Is the local planning and zoning agency unreasonable? Then work to change it.
Funding of education and parks isnt manna from the state. The money comes from only one source: business. Without healthy businesses, society has no wealth. It has no jobs, which means people have no income which means they cant pay taxes. Without prosperity, tax policies and budgeting mean little.
Those who consider themselves pro-education must first and foremost become pro-business. Want more teachers and schools? Then find a way to help businesses thrive. Want state parks? Then find a way to help businesses thrive. Business success is the only way out of our states financial mess.