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Legislative Year: 2019 Change

Colorado Eyes & Ears »

Colorado's tippy budget leans slightly positive right now, according to the latest forecast from the state's Legislative Council. This minimal good news shows the impact of taking back tax exemptions, making cuts, and some increasing revenues from income tax.

Not exactly a hyper upward trend
The budget office hesitates to say the economy will continue on a smooth and vigorous upward trend. But the increases beat the stick in the eye in '08-'09 and '09-'10 when revenues dropped 11.2% from $7.818 billion to $6.990 billion.

Budget climb a Promethean effort
The state faces a slow climb back. Its revenues are projected to increase by 4.3 percent in '10-'11 and 2.4% in '11-12. Even at that, the $7.87+ billion of '08-'09 will be $7.46 billion in '11-'12. Last anyone checked, inflation, while minimal, will still occur, so the state will continue in its hole for some years to come.

K-12 financing hard hit
These hard numbers weigh on the backs of school financing, Medicaid, and higher ed - the big chunks of the state budget. The state will cut $260 million from k-12 in '10-‘11, the first cut in funding since Amendment 23 passed in 2000 (HB10-1369).

State lawmakers, especially Democrats, are not happy about the cuts. School districts across Colorado are taking knives to their budgets, with Jefferson County Schools, the state's largest district, trimming back about $65 million in '10-'11; Denver Public Schools at $20 mm; Littleton Public Schools about $7 mm; Cherry Creek Schools at $17 mm; $2.9 mm from Durango District R-9; and $6 million from Pueblo D-70.  See city-data; Pueblo; Durango.

Some lawmakers take suck it up attitude
Not all lawmakers are saddened by the heavy cutbacks. Bruce Caughey of the Colorado School Administrators Association asserted that "we need to somehow develop the political will to correct" k-12 funding.

Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) strenuously objected. "There are some of us... who believe that more money doesn't automatically equate to a better education, and more money doesn't automatically equate to better schools," he huffed, irritated at Caughey's insinuation that the legislature lacks cojones. McNulty will find out soon enough if money makes a difference as Douglas County, the home of McNulty's Highlands Ranch district, will cut $37 million over two years.

Whitehead wants big water investment in A-LP
At about the same time the School Finance bill trudged through the House Education Committee, State Senator Bruce Whitehead, D-Durango, decided this is the time for the state to gin up $36 million to buy 10,460 acre-feet of water out of the Animas-LaPlata water project. Whitehead, the executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservancy District, has long supported the A-LP project, with its reservoir designated to serve water needs for Native American tribes and nontribal entities in Colorado and New Mexico.

The state holds the right of first refusal to buy the water, and if the state doesn't exercise the option, the water will go to the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Indian tribes. "I try to keep reminding the state that we need to take a serious look at this," Whitehead said. He feels the water is cheap at $3500 an acre foot.

Water limited to municipal use, but who knows?
The Bureau of Reclamation project water is for municipal use only, but if the state buys its allotment, it has "many options for using the water," according to Whitehead. Communities in the upper Colorado River basin can build a city water project, he suggests, and use the A-LP reservoir to replace the water taken from the upper basin rivers. He doesn't say who would pay for the taking, the city with the water project or the state. If Whitehead's recommendation goes through, he will amend the Colorado Water Conservation Board bill, HB10-1250, to pitch $12 million in three annual payments to the Bureau of Rec for the water.

Benefield tries end-run around TABOR
Not to be undone, the education community, under a referred measure sponsored by Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada, wants to exempt Colorado's k-12 schools from Taxpayer's Bill of Rights limitations. The proposal gives the legislature the right to increase taxes for k-12 without going to a vote of the people, although it will require a vote of the people to go into effect.

The measure needs a 2/3 vote at the legislature to get on the ballot, which means Republicans would have to cross over. Given the GOP's response to removing tax exemptions, getting enough Republicans to support the measure seems highly unlikely.

Brophy mocks Benefield go-around
State Senator Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said Democrats would just raise taxes for education spending and then shift spending to other places in the budget. "They might as well man up and just put the question on the ballot to do away with TABOR."

Brophy, Sonnenberg, Renfroe take fed tax dollars
What Brophy didn't mention is that he is a big recipient of tax dollars from the federal government through its crop payment and subsidy programs. Brophy received $83,717 from 1999-2006. Similarly, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg received $459,252 from 1995-2006 in crop payments and crop subsidies, and State Senator Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, received $6566 since 2002 (Sonnenberg, Brophy, Renfroe dip into federal trough).

Altogether, the three legislators received $549,535 in federal payments and subsidies, money that would go a long way to help the Crested Butte school district, which has been unable to buy textbooks in over 10 years. PEN, CCW

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