Colorado Senate Race Budget Breakdown of Mark Udall’s Agenda

On Thursday, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) released the latest research covering the contested Colorado Senate race. Our line-by-line analyses of the two frontrunners cuts through campaign rhetoric and shows taxpayers the real numbers behind the candidates’ statements. To bring Americans the best, most accurate information, we match direct quotes and campaign literature with proposed legislation and budget data to compile a full potential cost of Colorado incumbent Senator Mark Udall’s platform. NTUF found that he would increase federal spending by $38.6 billion annually.

Senator Mark UdallFirst, some background information on Senator Udall. The Senator graduated from Williams College with a B.A. in American civilization and went on to work for Outward Bound, an outdoor education nonprofit organization. He later became the Executive Director. In 1996, Udall won his race for the Colorado House of Representatives and served for one term, running for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District seat. He then successfully ran for the Senate in 2008. In the 113th Congress, Udall serves on the Committees on Armed Services, Energy and Natural Resources, and Intelligence. He is the Chairman of the Subcommittees on Strategic Forces (under Armed Services) and National Parks (under Energy and Natural Resources).

A little about how NTUF scored Mark Udall’s platform. NTUF’s analysis is conducted using data from the BillTally project, which is the nation’s only comprehensive system that scores nearly every bill as introduced in Congress for changes in spending greater than $1 million. We consider how legislation would affect budget outlays, disregarding revenues or other economic effects (tax revenue tends to be more difficult to reliably project, and is highly dependent on macroeconomic trends). Those estimates are used to assign a dollar figure to each candidate’s campaign talking points, if and when they closely resemble existing legislation scored in the BillTally database.

Now onto the results! Here are the top-line findings of Mark Udall’s campaign agenda (dollars are annualized):

  • Gross Spending Increase: $38.6 billion
  • Number of Increase Proposals: 6
  • Gross Spending Decrease: N/A
  • Number of Decrease Proposals: 0
  • Net Proposed Spending Agenda: $38.6 billion
  • Change in the Projected FY 2015 Budget Deficit ($469 billion): +8.2%
  • Number of Unknown-Cost Proposals: 9
  • Total Number of Proposals: 15

Cost Increases

Senator Udall has said that “we must work to make college more affordable and invest in education” and also has a petition on his campaign website for individuals to pledge their support for the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. This bill would allow individuals to refinance their federal or private student loans as new federal direct loans. The reasoning behind the measure is that many students and graduates who borrowed money to attend school when interest rates were higher are unable to repay their loans. Refinancing those loans through federal borrowing would cut down on rates and leave many Americans with lower monthly student loan payments.

The Congressional Budget Office scored the bill as a $16.9 billion annual spending increase and a total $50.6 billion total cost spread over three years. Though it is not scored under BillTally rules, the bill would also authorize a new “Fair Share Tax” to offset some of the new costs, imposed at 30 percent on individuals with annual incomes of $1 million or more.

Spending Cuts

NTUF could not quantify any items within Udall’s agenda that would decrease federal spending. It is possible that his proposal to adopt select policies highlighted by the Simpson-Bowles Commission could include budgetary spending reductions. The Commission released reports in 2010 and 2013 on ways to control costs, add revenue, and make long-term progress towards reducing the national debt.

This does not mean that Udall does not support any savings proposals, only that NTUF was unable to find any discussed during this campaign. As NTUF found in our BillTally report for the First Session of the 113th Congress, he supported $41 million in annual cuts.

Unknown Cost Items

Of his 15 potentially budget-influencing platform policies, nine comments or statements were too broad to be scored in the study. This reflects a trend in other House, Presidential, and Senate elections: namely, that candidates need to offer taxpayers more details. It is possible that with more information, Udall’s net agenda could change significantly.

One measure with a large possible budgetary impact is his push to “make sure Pell Grants are fully funded.” NTUF researchers could not assign a cost (or savings) to this proposal, but if he had offered more information regarding his ultimate goal for Pell Grant funding, his agenda figures would change.

For example, if he had said he would seek to award Pell Grants year-round (instead of during traditional periods), NTUF could match his statement with a CBO report for the Access to Education and Training Act. It would increase spending by almost $3.1 billion over five years if the bill was signed into law. Senator Udall has not sponsored or cosponsored any legislation that would affect Pell Grants in the way he has pledged on the campaign trail.

To help taxpayers get a full picture of Udall’s agenda, I have five questions for him:

  • In 2014, the President called for $40 million to fund inspections, research, and testing related to railways transporting oil. Would you support this new spending or do you have an alternative plan to increase regulatory oversight of rail transport of oil?
  • Through what means do you proposed to invest tax dollars into alternative energy sources? Currently, there are tax credits, loans, loan guarantees, and grants available to a variety of energy producers.
  • Do you anticipate any new federal costs in making Browns Canyon a national monument?
  • In adopting a “Simpson-Bowles approach” to the federal budget, as you have supported, do you have specific measures that you can provide? Would it include revenue increases?
  • You recently voted in favor of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which increased spending by $12.6 billion. Would you vote in favor of any other specific veterans bills currently introduced in the 113th Congress?

To learn more about the Senate race in Colorado, check out NTUF’s Election resources: