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Sobanet's budget analogy watered down

Posted by Michael Sandoval on January 10th, 2011
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Governor-elect John Hickenlooper’s selection for Colorado state budget director-Henry Sobanet, profiled by Face the State-made a debut of sorts last Thursday at an open forum conducted by the Republican Study Committee of Colorado, to discuss the state’s impending budget woes, according to the Colorado News Agency:

Does the state of Colorado have a spending problem, or does the state of Colorado have a revenue problem? Incoming Colorado budget director Henry Sobanet quipped, “The answer is yes.”
. . .
“A lot of the gap in previous years was propped up by one-time money and that one-time money is going away,” said Sobanet. “We have to find a permanent solution to this deficit created by structural problems over a long time that have collided with a historical recession.”

Sobanet said the state is looking at a $1.3 billion gap that the state is “lurching toward rectifying.” He said previous stopgaps such as one-time injections of cash from the federal government or borrowing from cash funds may not be available when creating future budgets.

During follow up questions from the legislators present, Sobanet offered a budgeting “analogy” regarding new Federal health reform mandates that would soon take effect. State Sen. Ted Harvey (R-SD 30) seized on as insufficiently proactive:

Sobanet: Budget analogies are usually marginally ok, when you compare it to something else. Now we have a situation where the basement’s flooded, and we need to pump the water out to figure out all the damages. The majority of the new expense, except for locking in eligibility, is 2014 and beyond for the states. So, we need to rectify this current situation first, and then understand these new impacts. But the answer generally to your question is, of course, we have to understand and plan for these new obligations, and all the more reason to get our situation stabilized now because we have new mandates coming to the state of Colorado.

Sen. Harvey: If I can…I think we need to take a much more serious tone about the impact that the Federal legislation is going to have on the state. ‘The basement is flooded, we need to start pumping,’ but you’re about to get overrun by a tsunami, and if we don’t figure out a way to stop that tsunami or…we need to take a serious look on what the state can do to get out of this situation and I want to see the administration taking this more seriously.

Sobanet: I didn’t mean to imply we’re not taking it seriously, it’s just that there’s a certain amount of things we have to work on first and then we will obviously work on those things that can be worked on later, later. We are paying attention. Federal health reform implementation is a major priority of the incoming group, and I didn’t mean to imply we weren’t taking it seriously.

While immediate budgeting triage is in order and the examination for “damages,” in Sobanet’s words are of immediate concern, a failure to anticipate the burdens of massive new mandates in a dire budgeting scenario would seem inadequate, given the portion of the state’s budget that is tied to mandatory spending.

Punting the responsibility to a later time, like Sobanet’s analogy, won’t hold water this time around.

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  • Post by Michael Sandoval on January 10th, 2011

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