Sen. White meets with school boards to talk about state budget cuts

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RBC — When Meeker and Rangely school board members expressed concern about educational funding to Sen. Al White of Hayden, he could sympathize with their situation.
“I understand it’s a very difficult year,” White said.
With all the talk about the state’s budget deficit, White has a unique perspective on the subject.
As one of six members of the Joint Budget Committee, White and his fellow committee members are at the center of much of the discussion going on in the Legislature concerning the state’s projected budget shortfall of more than $600 million.
Even that number is iffy, he said.
“The $600 million is hypothetical,” White told members of the Meeker and Rangely school boards during a legislative update Feb. 7 in Meeker. “We don’t know if it’s wrong high or wrong low. It could be $800 million when the numbers are all in, or it could be $400 million. But it’s the number we’re using right now. We get another revenue forecast in March, and we will make adjustments accordingly. It’s kind of a moving target, not knowing what revenues are going to be.”
With the budget shortfall — whatever the number ends up being — the state is looking for new revenue sources, as well as considering cutbacks in funding for services.
“Not all of that will be in cuts,” White said. “Probably a couple of hundred million in cuts, and then a couple of hundred million shifting these cash funds, and that was the $15 million in cash funds that they were talking about shifting.”
There was a budget proposal to transfer $15 million from the mineral severance grant fund to the state’s general fund. White opposed the idea.
“I said I’m not going to support that bill,” White told school board members. “The one place I can have the most leverage and the most impact is on the Joint Budget Committee, because of the structure. Even in the minority, one member can say no, and (the bill) doesn’t happen. It takes all six of us to agree to do a bill. When they wanted to take $15 million out of DOLA (Department of Local Affairs) grant transfers this year and next year, I said I won’t go with that.”
Still, that doesn’t mean the proposal won’t happen, White said.
“So at least it won’t happen as a Joint Budget Committee bill,” White said. “But that’s not to say they may not get the chairmen of the finance committees to carry that bill and get it passed through.”
Not only is White concerned about budget cutbacks and how they will affect his district, but he expressed concern about how the state’s new rules and regulations for the oil and gas industry will impact energy companies’ level of activity in northwest Colorado.
“Anytime you are looking at investing somewhere, you want to understand what that investment climate is, and you want to understand your cost of doing business,” White said. “With these new rules and regs, these companies don’t know right now what their costs will be. So, I think that uncertainty is keeping companies from investing dollars here.”
White said it may take a few years to see the full impact of the new rules.
“There was an effort to forestall the effective date (of the new rules) for a year, but that died in committee,” White said. “I don’t see any likelihood that there will be any change in the rules. I don’t see that happening. Only after a year or two of operation in the state will companies have a better understanding of what these new rules will cost. And then we may see capital start trickling back in.”
White said this part of the state is already feeling the effects of the new regulations.
“The industry has got to be off, at least 40 percent, activity-wise,” White said. “The Department of Natural Resources kept beating its chest about all of this activity on the western slope and how their rules and regulations weren’t hurting anything. What they didn’t realize was that all of the activity that was being generated was based on getting their foot in the door before all of the new rules went into effect. Now that the new year is here … these guys have the whole United States, the whole world, to allocate their resources, and they will go where it’s most beneficial. They’re just uncertain about what it’s going to cost to do business in the Piceance. That’s what they’re responding to.”