Colorado state Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, criticized priority-based budgeting favored by Republicans because it may conflict with federal or constitutional mandates, The Grand Junction Sentinel reported.

I asked Penn Pfiffner, author of the Citizens’ Budget and a senior fellow at the Independence Institute, about that.

“Ferrandino gives up too easily,” said Pfiffner. “There are some problems we’re going to have to work about. And, in fact, the Citizens’ Budget deals specifically with calling for changes. And one of them is: in Amendment 23, we came up with a great observation about how you save money in education - and people can find that specifics in the budget report - but then we came to realize, O.K., if we save this $138 million on what’s called ‘master’s bumps,’ we’re still going to have to spend the money because Amendment 23 mandates you turn around and spend it on the school districts. So it’ll improve the operations, but it won’t give the flexibility that the legislature needs.

“So, in that case, Ferrandino’s right. And, it’s a very simple thing: he ought to be the one to put forth the idea that Amendment 23 has to be on the next ballot to be gotten rid of. And he’s also trying to confuse people by saying, you know, there’s all this money that comes in from the Feds that we can’t do much about, in terms of what the state legislature can determine. And he’s right about that. But 40 percent of the budget comes from state taxes, and 20 percent from things that go into what’s called cash funds, or the fees sort-of-stuff. And all of that is very much at his disposal. And he knows that from having been on the joint budget committee.”

Pfiffner lays out an interesting conundrum. When mandates (either constitutional or federal) are linked to expenditures instead of outcomes, no efficiency that’s found - or savings - will actually help the overall budget. The amounts to spend are dictated, but should be measured by improvements in education (or health care, or whatever the service happens to be).

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