Julie McCluskie, Q&A Representative | At the head of the Joint Budget Committee | Legislature


Now in her third year on the Joint Budget Committee, Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, is chair of the Legislative Assembly’s most powerful committee for 2022. She became the second Summit County Rep to serve on the JBC and in as chairwoman, following Rep. Millie Hamner, whom McCluskie succeeded to as the House District 61 seat after Hamner faced term limits in 2018.

Prior to running for General Assembly, McCluskie served as communications director for the Summit County School District, although she also spent two years — from 2011 to 2013 — as communications director for the Lt. Governor Joe Garcia, where she longed to run for the legislature.

Colorado Policy: How did you take over the presidency of the joint budget committee?

Representative Julie McCluskie: I have shared with my JBC colleagues, as well as the JBC staff, that I really hope we have a much more stable, routine and ordinary budgeting season than we have had for the past two years. Overall both years, although I would say last year, we were in much better shape than expected. Revenues were coming back stronger than we had anticipated. This created a difficult dynamic to have additional income. We still have money which is ad hoc. Making the right one-time strategic investments can be difficult.

We want to make sure this year is more typical, by getting back to that routine and working with the committee members, very grounded in what we know best about the state budget, really focusing on this special time. Many people recognize that COVID is now part of our lives. The challenges we are facing right now with our healthcare system, a spike in disease, are a good warning to us. This helps us temper our enthusiasm with one-time dollars, stay focused on a healthy recovery, both from an economic and human perspective, and ensure that we are thinking about investments that strengthen and support the healthcare system.

These benchmarks will help us make decisions about investments with one-time state funds, as well as the ARPA funds we have now.

pc: Who do you rely on for advice or coaching?

JMC: It certainly won’t come as a surprise to you, but I’m lucky to have both a coach and a mentor and a friend. [former Rep.] Millie Hamner, who sat on the JBC and was president of the JBC.

It’s not uncommon for me to pick up the phone, call him and ask for his thoughts and wisdom. I have done this since day one, but I would also add that I have great respect for some people over the years who have proven to be helpful and really powerful thought partners: Henry Sobanet, Todd Saliman (both former Directors of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting) and Mark Ferrandino (former Speaker of the House and member of the JBC).

All brought new perspectives, creative ideas. They have been good mentors for me.

Some of the best advice I received came from our Majority Leader, Daneya Esgar. I asked him, “Okay, I’m going to be the president, what’s your best advice?” She said: “Remember that you are not alone in this, and to ask for help and seek advice from others.”

Certainly the staff at JBC – they’ve been around a long time – really have a history and prior experiences that help shed some light on this moment now and how we might approach some of our decisions. So, I feel very lucky to have these people in my life to serve in this role.

pc: What made you want to join the JBC?

JMC: People often talk about the importance of timing in politics, about things happening to you at the right time. The 2019 session was certainly filled with a bit of magic. It was a time for me where I was able to realize and accomplish certain things for my community, and ultimately my neighborhood House, that brought about improvements and changes for people, for my neighbors, for my friends. It was incredibly exciting and meaningful.

I think all of us in the Legislative Assembly have been called to these jobs because we have a desire to serve. But in 2019, I saw success with reinsurance. In Summit County, the epicenter of some of the highest healthcare costs in the country, reinsurance has dramatically changed people’s lives. I saw this happen in a year. It was like a drug to be able to do something so good for so many people.

When the unexpected opening happened in 2020 when I hadn’t anticipated the dominoes that fell with Senator Hansen [moving] in the Senate that created this opening on JBC, I certainly had the experience of Rep. Hamners on JBC as an example, a model of other kinds of significant impacts one can have on the budget side of things .

As you probably know, I am very passionate about funding public schools and our colleges and universities. I really felt like it was a moment for me to take those interests and be able to do something that made a difference for the people I serve. And just six weeks later, we were in a COVID shutdown. There have definitely been times, in all honesty where if I had seen this coming, I would have run the other way.

Being so new to JBC and then having the weight of the world on our shoulders trying to figure out all those horrible cuts we’ve taken, having to cut services and funding for my two greatest loves, K12 and higher education, it was a miserable time.

But because of these cuts, we have put ourselves in a position of fiscal strength, of making good investments to protect the state against many more recessions. Now I feel like we can really do something bold with the next steps.

pc: What do you do with your spare time that you could cling to while you’re JBC president?

JMC: I love to knit. I am currently working on a sweater.

(Editor’s note: McCluskie went on sick leave for a few months in the fall of 2021 after doctors discovered a benign tumor in her head and neck. She underwent radiation therapy but is doing well and said that she was lucky to have found her in August and completed treatment before she had to be back for JBC work in November.)

It gave me time to rest and take care of myself, and I resumed my knitting and took on bigger and more challenging projects than I had for a long time. It’s good to do this as a bit of mental therapy.

My other great love is just dating. My husband and I like to go “skinning” when we can at Arapahoe Basin, up to the resort, back up the mountain, skiing. There are very few people and it’s a chance to really enjoy what we loved most about our mountain home.


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