When we embarked on our Citizens’ Budget project two years ago, we wanted it to be a big deal. It had to be, it was an enormous undertaking. We wanted to leave no stone unturned in our quest for a fiscally sound Colorado state budget. The project ended up requiring months of time from our most dedicated researchers and writers. In the end, we had a 170 page document that touched on all areas of our budget and offered sound solutions to our most urgent needs. Additionally, we made a 6-page executive summary of our findings for those who don’t want the big kahuna.
When the Citizens’ Budget first dropped, we found it was extremely popular with the Tea Party and limited government crowd. We ordered hundreds of physical copies and could hardly keep those puppies in stock! But when it came to our state legislature, there was hardly a peep. 2011 came and went and we wondered why no legislators jumped on any of our suggestions. Yeah, some of them are politically unpopular, but many of them are not. What gives?
But now in 2012 some brave state legislators have taken up the cause for fiscal responsibility! For a great overview of 3 bills working their way through the legislature thanks to our project, look no further than Wayne Laugesen’s editorial in today’s Colorado Springs Gazette. Wayne praises our Citizens’ Budget and goes on to explain how our suggestions to shore up the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) made their way into 3 bills thus far.
The first is a bill carried by Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker. The bill “would cap the health benefit for early retirees at $230 a month and eliminate health care payments for retirees who have reached the age of eligibility for Medicare.” Secondly, we have Senate Bill 119 carried by Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton. His bill “would force the board of directors of PERA to adjust benefits in order to “maintain the long-term actuarial soundness of each trust fund.” Our Fiscal Policy Center director and lead author of the Citizens’ Budget Penn Pfiffner gives a great explanation of exactly what that means,
“Today, the PERA board tells state government to get the money it needs. This bill says they have to adjust benefits accordingly. Once taxpayers have made their contribution, it will be up to PERA to make it work. We would no longer be responsible for how PERA handles the money.
Finally we have a Senate Bill 82 carried by Sen. Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch. His bill “would increase the age at which new public employees would be eligible for retirement benefits.” For example, today some new hires can plan on retiring at 58 years old thanks to PERA. Sen. Harvey’s bill would increase the age to 68 – the same as Social Security.
It’s exciting to see that the tremendous work our research team did two years ago is bearing fruit in 2012. We encourage all legislators to read their copy of our Citizens’ Budget (yes, you have one. If you can’t find yours, contact us immediately!) and take on the challenge to strike at the heart of our continued budget deficits. What’s the heart of our budget issues? As Penn Pfiffner says, “it’s a structural problem.” In other words, it’s time we discard all the accounting gimmicks we have to use each year to balance the budget. If the Citizens’ Budget were in charge, we wouldn’t need any tricks to fix a deficit because there wouldn’t be a deficit year after year.
Read more about the Citizens’ Budget project here.