It is always to easy to grow government when the state is flush with money. The problem is how is it sustained after the money goes away. For most elected officials, like the Governor, there are term-limits, so even if he is re-elected this year, Jared Polis will likely not have to face the hard task of laying off people or cutting programs down the road. I have been there. It is not pretty.
The Governor’s budget request was recently heard by the Joint Budget Committee (JBC). In his request for more staffing, Polis asked for six more Full-Time Employees (FTEs). At first glance, the request looks harmless, but it was the justification that got to me. The need for more staffers is necessary because the workload has increased due to the number of people calling with Covid concerns, and questions about business restrictions. Fair in 2020 and 2021, but in 2022 and beyond? Wasn’t it Governor Polis who recently said at a press conference that “the emergency phase of this virus is over”? Businesses are thankfully re-opened, so what is the crisis that justifies adding six more people to the Governor’s Office?
Senator Bob Rankin, who sits on the JBC, has been publicly and transparently tracking the addition of new FTEs to state government. In response to the staffing portion of the Governor’s request, he asked if these six new positions also included the nineteen employees that were requested for the new office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Nope. Those are an additional nineteen new employees.
The Energy Office requested an initial $2 million out of the General Fund (with an additional request for $2.5 million from the Marijuana Tax Fund) and an ongoing $500,000 commitment out of General Fund revenue to help decrease energy usage from the cannabis growing industry. Regardless of whether you support marijuana grow facilities, I thought it was supposed to be a self-sustaining industry, supported by the taxes it generates. Why are taxpayers funding this industry?
Polis has also requested $5 million for coal-impacted communities. Democrat Senator Chris Hansen again brought up his concerns about a long-term funding strategy, which I believe is a good question and one that coal-impacted communities would like to know the answer to as well. However, he then went down an interesting track: why are the coal operators not paying for the overall package? The JBC staffer presenting the package could not answer the question but let me take a stab at it. Government’s energy policies have caused these operators to lose their businesses, thus laying people off and paying less taxes to the communities that they once supported. Now, you want them to pay for it? It is as shocking as saying that businesses that were forced to close during Covid and could not re-open are now responsible for paying for the damage they have caused to their communities by closing their doors.
Senator Rankin brought up a suggestion to allocate $250,000 to study small molecular nuclear power plants to replace the source of coal facilities, for example, in Hayden and Craig. Senator Hansen chimed in that the Strategic Fund could do this on their own and the JBC should not mandate it.
I don’t see that happening but I welcome the opportunity to be wrong.
Always prioritizing rural communities, Senator Rankin also suggested that $1 million be allocated in the Strategic Fund and prioritized for rural economic development organizations that do not have the resources currently to apply for grants. Then, during a subsequent break, Senator Hansen and fellow Democrat Senator Rachel Zenzinger inadvertently spilled the beans. Not realizing the microphones were still on, Senator Hansen said that the war on Denver continues and if all it takes is $1 million for the Western Slope to not complain about Denver, he’s in. Senator Zenzinger agreed.
At best, that statement portrays how ignorant some legislators are to the economic development challenges that all rural communities face. At worst, it’s arrogance that they know what their policies have done but they simply don’t care.
Rose Pugliese is a former Mesa County Commissioner and a regular contributor to Complete Colorado.
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