“For years you’ve been hearing about – from the legislature, from the media, from all these politicos – that the state government is out of money,” said Penn Pfiffner.
And this time, he said, they’re right.
“Colorado’s state government faces a serious budget shortfall somewhere between $700 million and $1 billion in the coming fiscal year of 2011-12,” according to the “Citizens’ Budget,” a detailed proposal authored by Pfiffner, a senior fellow at the Independence Institute and past president of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers.
The 166-page document, subtitled, “Road Map for Sustainable Government in Colorado,” proposes structural changes to save taxpayer money on pension benefits, corrections, K-12, higher education and health care. It also promotes “priority-based budgeting” to identify the state’s top priorities and cut those deemed less critical. Co-authors include Mark Hillman, Linda Gorman, Barry Poulson, Ben DeGrow, and Dennis Polhill.
“…Year after year, [the state has] had to correct for a budget problem that’s been fairly small by comparison to what’s coming up,” Pfiffner told me recently. “Fairly small means maybe $70 million, $150 [million], sometimes as high as $200 million, to correct for the anticipated overspending versus the revenues. Well, that’s what we’ve been hearing. But this year, rather than crying wolf, they’re right about the fact that there’s going to be a big hole in the budget. And we say a big hole rather than a deficit because in Colorado the legislature cannot do deficit spending like they do in Washington. You have to make the budget come out even at the end of the year.”
Pfiffner knows of what he speaks. As a state legislator from 1993-2000, he’s been in the budget trenches at the state Capitol. He was also one of the early backers of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), which voters approved in 1992.
“…The Citizens’ Budget then is an effort to say: you’re going to have a problem. And rather than just giving up about how you spend money, about how you run the government, and say, well, ‘You, the citizens must come up with lots more money in new fees and new taxes.’ [Instead] we’re going to find a way that you can make a sustainable government that year-in, year-out doesn’t go through these crises.”
It can be frustrating when people point out problems without offering solutions. Pfiffner has offered a solution.