Colorado economists: Trump budget short on details, long on politics
Donald Trump's budget is more about politics and philosophy than policy and reality.
That was the consensus of more than a dozen economists and analysts interviewed by ColoradoPolitics.com after Trump dropped his proposal with a political thud.
Sen. Cory Gardner, the Republican from Yuma who serves on the Senate Budget Committee, reminded Trump that it's not his job to write the nation's budget.
Colorado's budget is always tight. About 30 percent of it comes from the federal government, and state budget analysts haven't yet began to break down the impact of Trump's various proposals, said Henry Sobanet, director of the Colorado Office of State Planning and Budgeting.
While federally supported research labs in Golden, Boulder and Fort Collins are anxious, the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden is in the crosshairs.
The Department of Energy, under Trump's proposal, faces a 5.6 percent reduction, partly because of a focus on nuclear energy instead of Colorado's renewable programs. The Department of Energy's Office of Science would get gashed by $900 million.
Trump shows no love at all for climate change research, the bread and butter of NREL's 327-acre research center in Golden.
NREL credits itself with a $701 million economic impact on Colorado in 2014, including $276 million on Jefferson County. NREL is the sixth-leading employer, just behind Coors, in Jefferson County, where the economic benefit totaled $275 million in 2014. It has a $357 million annual budget.
Environmentalists see pollution
The 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency would have a devastating impact - if not shutter - the Denver regional office, which serves seven Western states.
EPA enforcement faces a cut of almost $130 million, which environmental groups said is a guarantee of more pollution in the air and water.
The Department of Interior is tapped for a 12 percent reduction. The Bureau of Lane Management oversees 8.4 million acres of public lands in Colorado and 29 million acres of subsurface mineral rights, with 310 buildings and about 4,000 miles of roads, 1,215 miles of trails and 20 bridges.
"These unprecedented cuts will hamper the ability of our park rangers, scientists, those who enforce the law against polluters, and other Coloradans from doing their important work," said Jessica Goad, the spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado, the state's largest environmental organization.
"This is not just cutting the fat, this is a complete butchering of programs and jobs that are critical to Colorado."
Less money for roads, training
Trump's budget also makes no mention of the $550 billion infrastructure investment, which a few Colorado politicos had hoped would speed up widening Interstate 25 north of Monument and Denver and for the I-70 mountain corridor.
Instead, his first budget proposal cuts 13 percent from the Department of Transportation. Colorado gets about 70 percent of its transportation from the federal government.
Sam Gilchrist, executive director of the AFL-CIO of Colorado, said an overall cut of $2.5 billion to the Department of Labor would gut training programs that help employees and employers, as well as health and safety grants many Colorado businesses depend on.
Those businesses will have to absorb those costs or hope for the best in safety and training.
"Rather than bolster programs that help our communities, the president's proposal balances the budget on the backs of working families," he said.
Sen. Kent Lambert, a Republican from Colorado Springs who chairs the state legislature's Joint Budget Committee, said downsizing the federal government might be complicated, but it has a good purpose.
"Just in tone it seems as though the Trump administration is directly taking on what you would call the pork barrel politics of U.S Congress, that's an uphill battle but it's one of the reasons that he was elected, to drain the swamp," Lambert said.
He said if states gain more control from the federal government over Medicaid, transportation and education without mandates, "we would probably have a far more efficient way of delivering those products and services."
Paying for those services, however, would be another matter for the legislature and Coloradans.
Economists: More conversation
Economists said the budget proposal is light on details about how the government would account for the cost of unintended consequences, which could easily eclipse proposed savings.
"Meals on Wheels is a good example of where relatively minor cuts in the budget hurt people and end up costing them and the rest of us more over the long run," said Rich Jones, director of policy and research for the left-leaning Bell Policy Center in Denver.
"Most people would rather stay in their homes as they age. But many have a hard time with daily tasks like cooking and cleaning. Meals on Wheels brings food to them along with other services like housekeeping services, funded through grants under the Older Americans Act. Without these services, more seniors would have to go into assisted living centers or nursing homes. Living in those institutions costs seniors, their families and Medicaid three or four times more than staying at home with some help."
Several conservative economic think tanks in Denver and Washington declined to weigh in Thursday and Friday.
Carol Hedges, executive director of of the nonprofit Colorado Fiscal Institute, said Trump's proposal is more a statement than a possibility.
The institute holds that communities such as Colorado Springs, which might be overjoyed by increases in military spending, need to weigh that against what cuts mean to schools, older residents and the environment - campaign promises versus ground-level consequences.
Hedges thinks the budget is a catalyst to talk about those consequences.
"What does it look like if we lose a billion dollars in federal funding for healthcare in the state of Colorado?" Hedges asked. "What does that mean to our communities and hospitals all across this state? It's going to mean they won't be around, particularly in an environment where we're struggling without big federal cuts."
Cuts to transportation makes it harder for Colorado to plan for growth in population.
Hedges said that though the budget is unrealistic, it sets the tone. She called it a "moral document."
"Whether this is going to be enacted or not, it does set very clearly priorities," she said. "I think the point that cutting schools and transportation services and access to the outdoors in Colorado, and support for retired folks - that's not a moral framework I think many Coloradans are going to be comfortable with."