Greg Fulton

Though some differences between the House and Senate version of the Colorado state budget still need to be ironed out, it should receive final approval shortly.

The fact there was less rancor than in prior years on the budget was somewhat extraordinary in light of the polarization and partisanship at the Capitol this year.

To a large extent the lack of drama was due to the work of the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee (JBC).

Unless you work in or with state government, you probably are not familiar with the JBC. To be succinct, the JBC is the most powerful committee in the General Assembly. The committee’s power lies in the fact they control the purse strings for the state. In that role they weigh the budget requests from state agencies, analyze the capital needs and consider various existing or new state programs seeking funds. In lean years they are also the group that must make the tough decisions on budget cuts.

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The JBC, itself, is relatively small and made up of six members, three each from the House and Senate who are selected by the leadership in both houses. Though it is bipartisan, the majority in each house has two out of the three seats from that body on the committee.

Being a member of the JBC is a coveted appointment, but one must wonder why?  It is probably the most demanding committee in the legislature, meeting throughout the year and even more during the legislative session. There are many early morning meetings as well as evenings and even weekends. In addition, becoming a member of the committee requires one to become a quick study on the budget process and all arms of state government and its myriad of different programs.

It is not an easy job particularly during an inflationary period while our growing state also faces greater demands for services. It also can be a thankless job.  Making Solomon-like decisions concerning which programs may grow or be cut may take a toll on even the toughest of people and JBC members are not immune to this.

So in as polarized a year as this one, how did the JBC become a shining light of bipartisanship? The simple answer is the people, both the leadership and the members of the JBC. The people selected by their respective leadership for the committee are generally known as legislators who get things done. They’ve shown an ability to work across the aisle and many of their bills have cosponsors from the other party.

As with most matters, a key factor for success is leadership and the JBC is no different. The chair of the JBC, Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, and vice chair, Rep. Shannon Bird, are people known as consensus builders. They are smart, savvy and understand the legislative process. They are good listeners and have a good understanding of state government. They also appreciate that behind those budget figures are real people and programs that certain groups and the public depend upon.

The rest of the cast is also very solid. Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer has served as both an elected and appointed official at the state and local level and been a part of countless budget discussions. She understands the need for compromise. Sen. Jeff Bridges is someone who is a big picture guy who has served in the House and Senate. He has an open mind and is willing to work with anyone toward bettering the state. Rounding out the group are Rep. Emily Sirota and Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, who have very different views on a number of issues, but came together and made contributions toward finalizing the budget.

None of the JBC members would say the budget is ideal and probably all would have liked to see certain programs receive more or less funds. Though not perfect, it is a good budget. More importantly it represents a ray of hope as representatives set aside their differences on other policy matters and made the important decisions to guide our state.

Greg Fulton is the president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents more than 600 companies directly involved in, and affiliated with, trucking in Colorado.

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