Colo. Republicans target governor's budget plan

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2009 8:37 AM

Colorado Republicans vow to fight plans by Gov. Bill Ritter to eliminate tax breaks and release parolees to balance the state budget.

The Democratic governor could save money by firing many of the 2,000 new state employees he hired and rescinding tough new oil and gas rules that cost the state jobs, said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, a Republican from Fruita.

Ritter and lawmakers outlined their top priorities on Monday for the legislative session that begins Jan. 13, and they all agreed that balancing the budget will be their biggest problem.

Legislative leaders said other top issues this session include ensuring solvency for the state employee retirement fund, regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, qualifying for federal stimulus funds for public education and protecting higher education from further deep cuts.

Penry said Republicans were rebuffed when they proposed cutting government bureaucracy, consolidating boards and commissions and hiring fewer state employees.

"Since the hiring freeze alone, there have been 2,000 new state employees hired. We need to go there, we need to look at the bureaucracy. Let's cut there first instead of going to the core functions of government," Penry said.

Lawmakers also need to look at Ritter's plan for early release of parolees, noting the savings are less than expected because few candidates qualified, he said.

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Ritter defended his recommendation to eliminate 13 tax breaks, saying they were targeted at programs that wouldn't hurt jobs.

Outlining his agenda for the upcoming session, Ritter said his top priorities will be economic recovery and creating jobs, protecting people hurt by the recession and preserving a safety net.

Ritter's spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said Penry failed to offer new solutions to deal with the state's fiscal crisis, which was hit with a $1 billion shortfall over the past two years.

"He's tossing around $100 solutions to $1 billion problems," Dreyer said.