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Colorado secretary of state caught in budget showdown

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s showdown with the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee shows no sign of ending.

On Thursday, he showed up uninvited to a meeting and waiting in vain to discuss his office’s budget.

Arguments over Gessler’s budget have devolved in recent weeks, with one Democratic lawmaker on the committee comparing the Republican to a pig and suggesting the state would sue his office to force him to raise fees on businesses to adequately fund his office.

In response, Gessler — who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor — sent a testy letter to the committee, saying, “few members understand my office’s budget or understand that business fees — not public taxes — fund its operations.” He also complained that the committee refused to invite him to participate in the budget discussions because they may be contentious, with Sen. Pat Steadman at the time quipping, “[W]hen you wrestle with a pig, you get dirty.”

“You refused to allow me to present my budget, even though statements made at the hearing were factually and historically wrong,” Gessler wrote in his letter. “Instead, several members preferred personal insults over rational discussion. Disinviting my participation because it would be ‘contentious’ does not speak well for the legislative process. I can assure you the contention does not come from me.”

Gessler said the committee rejected a budget that had been approved by the committee’s non-partisan staff. He said the budget was balanced and preserved low fees on businesses that many committee members blame for having drastically drawn down his office’s reserves.

Gessler said the 2013 reserves were higher than allowed by state statute and that the fee holiday for businesses, notary publics and nonprofits allowed him to bring his reserves under the statutory maximum.

He blamed a Democratic-sponsored election reform bill — which was passed after the fee holidays were in place, with no Republicans voting in favor — for busting his budget.

Because of the bill, which Gessler wrote in his letter was “shoved through” by Democrats, Gessler wants the reimbursement to counties for the cost of elections to come from the General Fund in the future, about $2.5 million after each November election. The JBC wants him to raise fees for business filings to cover the costs.

But Gessler argues that it’s not about covering costs. His revised budget requests $19.8 million in spending, and his office says it has the revenue to pay for it, without raising fees on businesses. The JBC, however, has authorized Gessler to spend more — $21.9 million — and insists that he raise fees to pay for the shortfall.

“Does the JBC normally appropriate more money than an agency asks for, then demand that agency raise fees, and then criticize that agency for spending more and raising fees?” Gessler asked in his letter to the committee. “[T]hat’s exactly what you’re asking me to do.”

To force a conversation on the issue, he sat for about an hour in the front row at the JBC’s meeting on Thursday. Spokesman Rich Coolidge told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the committee chairwoman told Gessler he wouldn’t be allowed to speak because he hadn’t given notice that he would be present.

“I think a lot of these guys are furious that I cut fees and I talk about it,” Gessler later told the Denver Business Journal. “It ruins their entire view that you always have to raise taxes or raise fees to meet obligations. I am willing to say, ‘Look, our businesses who pay fees shouldn’t have to be subsidizing elections so heavily.”

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