An excellent story in today's Durango Herald from reporter Joe Hanel demolishes recent claims from Secretary of State Scott Gessler that last year's election modernization bill, House Bill 1303, has pushed his office's budget into the red.
The truth? Gessler just doesn't manage money very well.
Gessler’s office was running a $7 million surplus – so large it violated the law – in June 2012. A year later, it had fallen to less than $2 million, and now legislators are worried his budget will need extra money to keep it afloat.
Most of the shortfall traces back to Gessler’s cuts to business filing fees, according to budget numbers the Herald obtained through the Colorado Open Records Act. He also spent money on website upgrades to make it easier to register a business in Colorado.
Gessler, a Republican, is running for governor, and he touts his cuts to business fees on the campaign trail. But under the Capitol dome, he places blame for his collapsing budget on House Bill 1303, a mail-voting bill that Democrats passed last spring. [Pols emphasis]
“The issue basically with the budget is 1303’s been a budget-buster. It’s blown our budget out of the water,” Gessler said at a Dec. 19 oversight hearing at the Legislature…
As Hanel explains and an astute reader of our blog laid out earlier this month, Secretary of State Gessler has repeatedly cut the fees paid by businesses other entities to register with the state, including "holidays" where the fees were basically eliminated for months at a time. This was done in part to reduce the Secretary of State's then very large budget surplus to the level allowed by law. Costs of modernizing the election system after House Bill 1303 were incurred, Hanel reports, but only after Gessler's office had lost millions of dollars in revenue from reduced fees on businesses.
As a Republican candidate for governor in 2014, Gessler has used these cuts–which he was partly obligated to make–as proof of his pro-business credentials. In hindsight, though, it looks like Gessler cut fees much too aggressively, leaving him with no cushion to pay for implementing an election modernization bill authored by county clerks from both parties. And what about all the money spent unsuccessfully defending Gessler from last year's ethics complaint?
It's not unreasonable to be, you know, less sympathetic to Gessler's budget problems with all this in mind.