Bush budget looms tough for Colorado

Bush budget looms tough for Colorado

13February 2005

publishedby www.denverpost.com 

Cuts for federal labs, wildfire protection and chemical weapons cleanup worry members of Congress. Vets aren’t happy about medicalbenefits.

Elaborating on the release of its $2.57 trillion budget for next year, the White House last week provided unique analyses for each state, detailing “special interest” items.

Most states had just one or two. Colorado had four. Ohio had nine – more than any other state. Hmmm.

With a budget proposal that scales back domestic spending while boosting national security – all while making tax cuts permanent – it stands to reason Colorado, and many other jurisdictions, would end up a loser financially. Indeed, there is some serious damage to Colorado interests in the Bush budget, and we hope Congress will correct the worst flaws.

Among them, Bush would slash funding for federal scientific labs in Colorado, zero out the Pueblo Chemical Depot and make dangerous cuts in wildland fire management.

Even the White House’s own talking points for what Colorado would gain were somewhat forced. Two of the four – Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative and energy assistance for low-income people – are shared by just about every state with a forest and poor people.

The other two items keep existing projects on track, including $52 million to maintain construction of the Animas La Plata dam and reservoir project in southwestern Colorado and $664 million to continue cleaning up Rocky Flats. That’s a $10 million increase from 2004.

Sen. Ken Salazar’s staff did identify two possible additional gains for Colorado:

An across-the-board increase of 8.4 percent, or $3.4 million, in wind energy money could impact Colorado positively as wind farms continue to grow.

A reduction in the amount of subsidies going to corporate-owned farms – from $360,000 annually to $250,000 – could mean more money for family farms. Either way, Salazar believes the reduction makes sense.

But the state’s losses far outnumber its gains:

No money was requested for construction of the $1.6 billion facility in Pueblo to neutralize 780,000 mustard-gas shells at the Pueblo Chemical Depot. Some now fear the 77 percent cut proposed for the Pentagon program that includes the depot could mean the military is planning to scrap plans to build the high-tech facility.

Forty-three million dollars in cuts to federal labs in Colorado, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology would receive $21 million increase for construction upgrades under the budget, but an overall cut in operational funding, said Lawrence Pacheco, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mark Udall.

A 5 percent reduction in subsidies to all crop and dairy farmers. “At a time of drought in Colorado, it severely affects them,” says Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz.

No funding to prolong the life of the Hubble telescope. Two instruments from the University of Colorado were expected to be placed on the Hubble. “We have the fourth-largest aerospace industry in the country,” Pacheco said, so any aerospace cuts hurt.

A $26.8 reduction in the Interior Department’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, programs, which was decried by members of Congress with federal land in their districts. (The PILT program is meant to at least partly compensate counties with lots of federal land, which is exempt from property taxes.) Meanwhile, Bush wants to increase federal land acquisition funding by $11.3 million, irking Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. “It harms Colorado when the federal government boosts land acquisition and reduces payments to locals communities,” she said.

Republican Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado Springs said he’ll work to restore PILT funding.

Some cuts aren’t Colorado-specific, but their impact will weigh heavily here.

Nearly 30,000 of Colorado’s 430,000 veterans will be forced to pay a new $250 fee to access medical care, along with a doubling of their prescription drug costs. Another 215,000 veterans could be affected by the price hikes.

The $71.3 billion requested for the Department of Veterans Affairs includes a slight increase in overall funding to Colorado veterans’ benefits programs.

But funding of medical care will increase just 1.2 percent, which veterans advocates say is far less than needed to meet demand.

Also, a $283 million decrease in money for wildland fire management, including state and volunteer fire assistance and forest health work, could hurt Colorado come fire season.

But what really irked some Colorado Democrats is what Bush didn’t include in his budget, namely the ongoing costs for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s a smokescreen that looks fiscally responsible, but it has a credit card mentality,” Wertz said. “What really looks like a lean budget isn’t when you show everything else that’s really in it, or should be in it.”

Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo has his own read on the budget, noting that it has just begun a legislative path that will test all its austerity proposals.

“Experience teaches us that efforts to reduce spending in Washington always meet stiff opposition from special interests and politicians protecting pet projects,” Tancredo said. “Despite all this talk of reducing spending, I am afraid that after all the smoke clears, Congress will end up approving another bloated spending package.”


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