Gessler under fire for budget problems

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Secretary of State Scott Gessler
  • Secretary of State Scott Gessler
Secretary of State Scott Gessler is known as "the Honey Badger" for his tenacious political dealings. But the liberal group ProgressNow has given him a new name as of late: "the Money Badger."

The nickname stems from a rather animated debate on who is to blame for the budget problems in Gessler's office. Gessler, who is running for governor, entered his office with a surplus of about $7 million, but is now scrambling to make ends meet. A big reason for that is that Gessler slashed fees on business registrations and other services performed by his office.

But Gessler says he's not to blame for the money problems, and he refuses to raise fees. For insight into just how ugly this has gotten, check out some of the press releases that have come out this month.

From Gessler's office on Feb. 5:

Democrats Sling Mud at Gessler

While Democrats demand respect at the Capitol, today they descended into petty insults, at one point equating Secretary of State Scott Gessler to a pig.

During a briefing by the legislature’s non-partisan budget staff, Democrats questioned why Gessler wouldn’t raise fees on Colorado businesses to offset the legislature’s spending appetite. JBC Vice-Chair Pat Steadman (D-Denver) went so far as to say that the JBC should file a lawsuit to force Gessler to increase fees on non-profits, charities and small businesses.

“As Colorado small businesses claw their way out of this recession, the Democrats’ answer is to raise fees to pay for their partisan election bill and pet projects,” Gessler said. “My office submitted a fiscally responsible budget that meets the spending obligations of the legislature without raising fees on our businesses and non-profits. If the Democrats want to spend taxpayer money to get a judge to force fee increases on Colorado charities and businesses, I will fight it tooth and nail.”

Democrats rejected the non-partisan staff’s recommendation and instead chose to insult Gessler, who wasn’t in the room. When asked about collecting more information from the Secretary of State’s office, some members requested Gessler explain in-person at their next meeting. But Vice-Chair Steadman disinvited him and referred to Gessler as a pig saying “When you wrestle with a pig, you get dirty.”

“While the Democrats on the committee pat themselves on their backs for their partisan performance in the people’s house, Coloradans are left wondering, ‘These are the people we elected?’” Gessler said. “I would be more than happy to explain how our reduced fees have benefitted Colorado businesses and charities while keeping our fees the lowest in the country. It’s a sad state of affairs when our majority party is insulting individuals, broadcasting those insults and denying any chance of responding.”

Gessler’s written response is due to the committee on February 17.

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From ProgressNow on Feb. 17:

So much for the “party of fiscal responsibility.”

Colorado’s Secretary of State Scott Gessler has never been one to play by the rules. Since taking office in 2011, Gessler has faced scandal after scandal over his own efforts to tilt the playing field to his and his party’s advantage. Gessler is the only statewide politician in office today in Colorado who has been found by the state’s Independent Ethics Commission to have “violated the public trust for private gain.”

Now we learn Gessler can’t even manage his own department’s budget. After slashing fees on business registrations and other services performed by his office, news reports have revealed that the Secretary of State’s office is millions of dollars in the red. Gessler blames political opponents, but these were his decisions. Cutting fees on business is a great way to pander while running for higher office, but taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for it ...

Don’t take my word for it. Even the conservative Grand Junction Sentinel [1] says Gessler is wrong to blame others for his own mismanagement:

"Unfortunately for the [Joint Budget Committee], Gessler loves an audience and he will undoubtedly use the grandstand the budget committee is providing him to loudly proclaim his victimhood. But the JBC holds the higher moral ground in this dispute. Gessler got himself into this predicament by sharply cutting business fees for his cash-funded office, when his office had a large surplus several years ago, refusing to put a portion of the surplus into the state general fund as lawmakers demanded."

Over the past three years, Scott Gessler has caused more controversy, and been hit with more ethics scandals, than any politician in this state. By simple yardsticks of scandal and mismanagement, he’s the worst Secretary of State Colorado has seen in decades—maybe ever. Enough is enough: tell Scott Gessler to withdraw his request for millions more taxpayer dollars to cover his office’s avoidable shortfall. He’ll receive your message instantly, and we’ll share your comments with the media and other public officials.

The only thing Scott Gessler is better at than getting into trouble is making excuses. If Gessler can’t manage the finances of a single department, how could anyone even consider entrusting him with more responsibility? It just doesn’t make sense. Let Gessler know you’re not buying it, and that you expect better.

Thank you,

Amy Runyon-Harms

From Gessler's office Feb. 18:

Secretary of State filers deserve the truth on budget

By now, many of you have heard wild accusations, insults and downright fabrications about the Secretary of State’s office budget. I want to assure you my budget is sound, and while tighter than in previous years, I’m committed to maximizing and preserving your low filing fees.

When I became Secretary of State, one of my goals was to bring the department’s budget into compliance with state law. No department can maintain a surplus exceeding 16.5% of its spending. Beginning July 1, 2012, my office accumulated a $7 million surplus when state law only allowed $2.2 million in excess.

To reduce the excess surplus, I dropped filing fees across the board to chip away at those excess funds. I’m proud to say many of our filers took advantage of the reduction. Our fees are already among the lowest in the country, so reducing them may seem like a small deal, but we ultimately returned $3.5 million back to our filers. That’s $3.5 million that businesses can use to grow, or nonprofits can use to better serve their communities.

We coupled those fee holidays with long-term planning aimed at prolonging our federal election grant funds by bringing some of those costs in-house. In total, we absorbed $1.6 million from the declining federal funds and moved that responsibility to our cash fund.

Through both of these efforts, we brought our budget in line with state law, leaving $1.9 million in our surplus account. Unfortunately, the legislature sprung an election re-write bill near the end of the fiscal year that wiped out those surplus dollars, challenging our budget. Since a full 25% of our filing fees pay for elections in Colorado, this will have an impact on our ability to serve our paying customers.

As many of you know, the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee governs my department’s spending level, while I set the revenues through fees. Recently, through cooperation with the non-partisan committee staff, I revised my budget request to include less spending. Shockingly, the committee members rejected this reasonable approach and granted a higher spending amount wanting to force my hand to raise fees. One member even went so far as to threaten to sue my office to force me to raise fees.

To be clear, our office is operating within our budget. I will not be raising fees.

I want to reiterate my commitment to keep our fees the lowest in the country. My office will not have a shortfall and we’re going to meet our obligations to my customers and stakeholders. That means delivering top-notch customer service while charging as little as possible in fees.

My frustration is that more of the office’s resources will be devoted to my elections division than to supporting the department’s filers. We have exciting initiatives underway focused on increasing the efficiencies for our filers. These projects will be delayed because of resources necessary to meet the deadlines in the legislature’s election re-write.

That said, I’ve submitted a fiscally responsible budget that’s been endorsed by the non-partisan committee staff.

I will vigorously fight any attempts to force fee increases for businesses, nonprofits, charities, notaries public or bingo and raffle filers.

My aim is to provide clarity for my filers, so thank you for reviewing this and please contact my office with any additional questions or concerns you might have.

Thank you,

Scott Gessler

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