Open Public Testimony
INTERIM COMMISSION TO STUDY FISCAL STABILITY
|Votes: View--> ||Action Taken: |
02:03 PM -- Open Public Testimony
Representative Ferrandino, Vice-chair, called the meeting back to order.
The following people testified before the commission:
02:04 PM -- Representative Glenn Vaad discussed his views on ways in which the state could better budget its money, such as though performance- and priority-based budgeting. His letter to the commission is provided as Attachment K. He thought there needed to be more coordination among all state programs and services in the budgeting process to make government work more efficiently.
02:12 PM -- Christie Donner, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC), commented on how the state's spending on corrections is exacerbating the state's budget problems and indicated that there were ways for the state to save money on corrections spending while maintaining public safety. The following documents were distributed to the commission:
- Attachment L: "National and state perspectives on incarceration rates;"
- Attachment M: "Colorado Quick Facts, 2009" on the corrections system in Colorado;
- Attachment N: "Employment Related Programs in Colorado's Prisons, July 2009," Issue Brief;
- Attachment O: "Colorado Justice Report, Summer 2009," Quarterly Newsletter of the CCJRC;
- Attachment P: "The Piton Perspective;" and
- Attachment Q: a pamphlet providing an overview of the CCJRC.
Ms. Donner discussed her beliefs that the state incarcerates too many individuals, especially for drug-related crimes. She also stated the need to improve services to individuals in prison, such as vocational training, to reduce recidivism.
02:18 PM -- Mike Krause, Independence Institute, discussed the need for the state to undergo sentencing reform, particularly regarding drug charges, because state spending on corrections was unsustainable. His publications entitled, "Getting Smart on Crime" and "Prison Budget: Sentencing Laws Drive State Spending" were distributed to the commission (Attachments R and S). He stated that current policies to combat drugs were not working and recommended removing drug sentencing from the state felony code and creating an alternative sentencing structure for drug-related crimes. He noted a 2005 study that indicated that the state could save between $20 million and $40 million through drug sentencing reform. However, the actual amount of savings would not be known until the impacts of new policies were assessed over time.
02:27 PM -- Marijo Rymer, the Arc of Colorado, provided background information on Arc and the current long waiting list for services for people with developmental disabilities (DD). A copy of her materials providing information on services for the DD population were distributed to the commission (Attachments T and U). She discussed the need to address the long waiting list, both through more funding and making the service system more efficient. She believed that the state did not levy sufficient enough taxes to get the government programs and services that are needed for the state's residents and economy.
02:34 PM -- Rich Mauro, Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), Colorado Senior Lobby, and the Older Americans Coalition, indicated that the commission and state government needed to better consider services provided to the elderly. He stated that there were more cost-effective ways for the state to provide elderly services, such as home- and community-based programs rather than through institutionalization. The following documents were distributed to the commission:
- Attachment V: "Colorado's Transportation Funding Crisis," DRCOG Fact Sheet;
- Attachment W: "Planning and Funding for Aging Services," DRCOG Issue Paper;
- Attachment X: State Map of Area Agencies on Aging; and
- Attachment Y: Written Testimony to the Commission from Herb Homan, Colorado Senior Lobby.
02:39 PM -- Fern Osborne, Older Americans Coalition, Colorado Senior Lobby, and the Alliance for Retired Americans, commented on the state's growing elderly population and noted that many elderly were low income. She stated that Colorado needed to do a better job of taking care of its elderly population, such as through increased funding for the Older Americans Act.
Mr. Mauro discussed whether it was appropriate to raise the eligibility age and require "means testing" for certain programs for the elderly.
Senator Morse talked about the need to better coordinate services for both the elderly and disabled so that the services are provided more efficiently.
The commission discussed how families of the elderly are less involved in taking care of the elderly because society has become more mobile with families living farther from each other than in the past.
02:54 PM -- Brian Starkebaum, Colorado Association of Conservation Districts, provided information on conservation districts in the state and the conservation projects that benefit the state. His handout, "The 2009 Strategic Report for the Colorado State Conservation Board," is provided as Attachment Z. He stated that funding in the budget for conservation projects represented a small share of the state budget and that the demand for such funding far exceeded the supply. He noted that the cuts to the funding hurt conservation projects in the state.
02:58 PM -- Jim Barclay, Foster Care and Adoption Association of Colorado, discussed his organization and how inadequate funding for child welfare was negatively affecting the child services system in the state. A copy of his presentation is provided as Attachment AA. He recommended measures to improve how the foster care system operates to create cost savings, such as using a flat rate reimbursement system for providers.
03:05 PM -- David Ervin, CCB Partners, discussed the long waiting list for services for people with developmental disabilities (DD) and the need to take better care of the DD population. He stated that increasing funding for DD services could result in reducing costs to the state, such as through helping individuals with DD develop job skills so they can become more self-sufficient.
The commission discussed the regulatory environment for the DD service system and whether there were ways to implement reforms to make the system work better and become more cost-effective.
03:18 PM -- Kenny Rogers, Colorado Cattlemen's Association, discussed the cattle industry in Colorado and its importance to the state. A copy of his testimony is provided as Attachment BB. He commented on the costs of doing business in the state. In particular, he discussed the difficulty the industry has with paying state fees due to its small profit margins and that the fees place Colorado ranchers at an unfair advantage with other states. He also discussed the tax exemptions available to the industry and that their elimination could hurt consumers through higher prices.
In response to an inquiry from Senator Brophy, Mr. Rogers provided information on the number of vehicles and trailers he has in which he must pay registration fees, as well as the potential negative impacts of eliminating sales tax exemptions on equipment and goods purchased by the ranching industry.
03:28 PM -- Don Shawcroft, Colorado Farm Bureau, discussed his organization and the farming industry in Colorado. He indicated that he supported changes to TABOR, Amendment 23, and the Gallagher amendment in the state constitution to help the state's budget. He also commented on the state Department of Agriculture's increasing reliance on fees to fund its operations in recent years rather than through the General Fund. He stated that some of the department's services should not be funded by fees paid by the industry since they involve consumer health and safety. These services should be funded by all taxpayers. He also commented on the potential harmful effects of eliminating certain tax exemptions for the farm industry.
03:36 PM -- Kent Peppler, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, discussed his concerns regarding issues affecting rural Colorado, such as the possible elimination of tax exemptions that are utilized by the agricultural industry, the need to increase funding for the state Department of Agriculture, especially its agricultural marketing program, and the need to increase funding for water projects. A copy of his testimony is provided as Attachment CC. He thought the state needed to find comprehensive ways to fix the state budget, rather than through piecemeal measures.
03:41 PM -- Jeffrey Zax, economics professor from the University of Colorado, discussed how the state government can interact with the economy and help stabilize it. A copy of his testimony is provided as Attachment DD. He thought that the state had failed in helping the economy during recessions, especially in maintaining public assistance programs. Also, he stated that Colorado needed to save more during healthy economic times so that more money was available during downturns.
Dr. Zax continued by explaining that the state should not provide subsidies to private businesses and was skeptical that such policies help create jobs. He thought that the state government should only provide the government services that the public wants and that the private sector could thrive without government subsidies. In response to commission questions, he commented on eliminating certain tax exemptions. He also discussed the sales tax in general, noting his belief that it was not a good tax because of its regressively and its tendency to cause less consumption of taxable goods, which hurts the workforce involved in producing such goods.
In response to commission questions about the size of a reserve fund for the state, Dr. Zax thought that an account equal to around 12 percent of spending could be sufficient by increasing the state's reserve by 2 percent a year during a growing economy.
03:53 PM -- Susan Graf, Boulder Chamber of Commerce, discussed the importance of maintaining a favorable business climate in the state, noting the benefits of recent tax policy changes that provide a new tax credit for jobs and changes to the business personal property tax. She also indicated that the state needs to improve its services that provide business support. She closed by stating that the state needs to focus on developing leading edge industries involving science and technology and that the state is in a position to be a leader in this area. However, the state also needs to support tourism to Colorado and to provide a quality transportation and higher education system in order to maintain a viable economy.
Michael Corn and Roger Hauffman, representing themselves, were not available to publically testify before the commission. However, copies of their written testimony were distributed to the commission (Attachments EE and FF).
03:59 PM -- Louise Boris, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, discussed homelessness in the state and noted that Colorado is the only state that does not provide direct funding for emergencies related to homelessness. A copy of her testimony is provided as Attachment GG. She provided information on recent cuts to services for the homeless and the needy, especially disabled populations and those with mental health issues. She emphasized that it was critical that the state do more to help those in need, especially by providing more funding for affordable housing, and mental health and drug abuse services.
04:06 PM -- George Del Grosso, Colorado Behavioral Health-Care Council, discussed his organization and its role in Colorado's safety net for individuals with mental health problems. He stated that better services for this population could help the state's fiscal issues, such as by reducing prison and health care costs.
04:11 PM -- John Arigoni, Metro Denver Boys and Girls Club, explained that his organization's programs can reduce government expenditures, such as on corrections, human services, education, and health care, though helping children obtain more positive experiences and influences in their lives. He stated that he thought it would be beneficial for the state to provide more funding to nonprofits and also that the state could make some changes to the tax code to encourage more donations. He discussed the benefits of the Colorado child care tax credit.
04:16 PM -- Herb Fenster, attorney at McKenna Long & Aldridge, discussed his thoughts on the need to privatize the University of Colorado, which he stated would reduce state costs and provide benefits for the development of the school. A copy of his testimony is provided as Attachment HH. Mr. Fenster also announced his plans to file a lawsuit in federal court to overturn TABOR by claiming it violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of a republican form of government for each state. He noted the state's "raiding" of cash funds for budget purposes would be part of the lawsuit.
He responded to commission questions on his concept to privatize the University of Colorado and on his lawsuit. He noted that Cornell University in New York has undergone some privatization.
04:35 PM -- Ben DeGrow, education policy analyst at the Independence Institute, discussed education funding in Colorado. A copy of his testimony is provided as Attachment II. He agreed with prior commission testimony that the state spends less on education than other states and that an adequate level of funding for schools was important. However, he stated that it was unknown what level of funding was adequate. He recommended that the school finance system undergo restructuring and that the commission look at the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education work for ideas on how to improve the way the state funds education. He noted the Colorado Department of Education's recent efforts to look at student improvement and teacher performance. However, he thought that the current school finance system was inflexible in allowing for the shifting of money from ineffective to more effective programs.
04:44 PM -- Elinor Christiansen, MD, Health Care for All Colorado Foundation, provided information on the SB 06-208 Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform's work on studying the creation of a "single-payer" health care system in the state. A copy of her handout with information on a single-payer program for Colorado is provided as Attachment JJ. She stated that the plan would help the state's long-term fiscal stability, indicating that an analysis of the plan by The Lewin Group indicated that the plan was the only health care plan studied by the blue ribbon commission that would save money and cover everyone. She described how the single payer system would work and how it would result in cost savings. A copy of a diagram from The Lewin Group's analysis of the plan is provided as Attachment X. She responded to commission questions on the plan.
04:52 PM -- Elin Rusher, representing herself, indicated that she was asked by the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts to testify before the commission about the role and importance of the state conservation easement tax credit in conserving land in the state. She commented on the widely-reported abuses of the credit and efforts to mitigate such abuses. She urged the state to not eliminate the credit.
05:01 PM -- Jon Nicholas, representing himself, discussed the use of tax increment financing (TIF) and its impact on the state budget through requiring increases in state funding on education to backfill the loss of local government property tax revenue. A copy of his testimony is provided as Attachment KK. He stated that the use of TIF for urban renewal projects does not benefit the state as a whole; it only shifts the same amount of tax revenue and jobs to different areas. He thought the TIF and urban renewal system needed reform.
05:08 PM -- Miller Hudson, former state representative, recommended that the commission have a meeting with state employees to help identify ways in which the state could be more efficient with its money. He discussed a study he wrote on the state's fiscal constraints and proposed placing a question on the ballot that would transfer certain provisions in the state constitution impacting state spending and revenue into the state's statutes to enable the legislature to be more flexible in its budgeting. A copy of his testimony is provided as Attachment LL.
05:14 PM -- Mike Salisbury, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, discussed his organization and its efforts to address the state's shortfall in transportation funding. The organization recommends the use of more user fees, particularly tolling on certain road segments. The commission discussed tolling issues and other ways to increase revenue for transportation.
05:21 PM -- Lisa and Patrick Mieritz, representing themselves and Taxpayers for Achievement, Inc, discussed their belief that the state was wasting money on charter schools. A copy of their presentation is provided as Attachment MM. Ms. Mieritz discussed recent legislation that makes traditional public schools more innovative and flexible, allowing them to function similar to a charter school. She indicated that she thought that charter schools cost taxpayers at least $5,000 more per student than traditional schools and that the state would save $200 million to $300 million a year by placing all charter school students back into traditional public schools.
In response to commission questions, Ms. Mieritz clarified why she thought charters cost the state so much more than traditional schools. She indicated that there was a multitude of reasons, but noted that they have higher administrative and facilities costs and are inefficient. The commission discussed the costs incurred by charter and traditional public schools.
05:37 PM -- Bob Doyle, Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance, testified that he supported the commission's efforts to look at the long-term fiscal stability of the state.
05:38 PM -- Mark Hamouz, representing himself, indicated that he is an owner of a small business transportation engineering firm. He expressed his concerns with policies implemented by the state that raise the costs of doing business. He also indicated that the commission needed to find ways to make its revenue less volatile over business cycles. Further, he noted that if the state eliminated sales tax exemptions it needed to do so in a revenue neutral way, such as by simultaneously raising the tax rate. He thought the state needed to make enduring reforms and avoid pushing out its fiscal problems. He also noted his opposition to the Gallagher Amendment. In response to Representative Gerou, he discussed his thoughts on the economy. He stated that he did not see much improvement in the private sector of the economy, but that money for stimulus projects was beginning to have some positive effects.
The public testimony portion of the meeting was closed.
The commission discussed its agendas for future meetings. Representative Ferrandino indicated that the meetings would focus more on looking for solutions to the state's fiscal situation and that there would be commission discussion about what kind of state the commission thought Colorado should be, what the role of government should be in the state, and what costs for government the commission's vision might entail.
Representative Court discussed her uncertainty regarding what all the departments and interest groups that testified before the commission wanted or needed in regards to policy changes and funding levels. Representative Ferrandino indicated that finding answers to these questions would be the focus of the commission at its future meetings.
The commission adjourned