Proposed state budget reflects increased revenues — and spending

Governor John Hickenlooper

A proposed budget for Colorado reflects increased tax revenues from a recovering economy as well as increased spending earmarked for everything from funding recovery efforts for wildfires and floods to boosting budget reserves to cutting average wait times at drivers license offices.

The proposed budget also provides funding a new fugitive apprehension unit at the Department of Corrections and genetic testing by the Department of Public Safety of forensic medical evidence in connection with alleged sexual assaults.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his proposed budget for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal year to the Joint Budget Committee of the State Legislature.

“Colorado is still recovering from the most destructive flooding in the state’s history. This budget frames what by necessity will have to be a collaborative effort that crosses party lines. We expect compromise from both sides that is based on common sense, which has no political affiliation,” Hickenlooper said.

The proposed budget  totals just over $24 billion, of which $9 billion is from the general fund. Compared to expected appropriations for the 2013 and 2014 fiscal year, the proposed budget reflects a 4.4 percent increase overall and 4.5 percent increase in the general fund.

“As Colorado’s economy continues to recover, the governor has proposed key investments in our infrastructure and work force, which I wholly support,” said State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee.

“Last year we were able to restore some funding to higher education, but we wanted to do much more. This year there is  a significant investment, which will hold back tuition increases and make the promise of higher education more accessible and affordable for Coloradans,” Steadman added.

Although most areas of the proposed budget will receive increases next year, there are many allocations for one-time expenditures. Hickenlooper said his priorities in the general fund will include:

Keeping pace with inflation and student growth for only the second year in the past six by funding K-12 education with an increase of $223 per pupil (3.4 percent).

Restoring higher education funding to levels that exceed the pre-recession peak with an additional $101.8 million (15.5 percent), including an increase in financial aid and limiting tuition growth to 6 percent.

Requesting a comprehensive initiative to reduce average wait times at drivers license offices to 15 minutes (from 60 minutes today).

Establishing a 6.5 percent reserve ($554 million) in the general fund. Additionally, the budget proposal includes repaying $109.4 million in cash funds that were transferred to the general fund as well as reversing the 2003 pay date shift ($94 million).

“I’m optimistic about the opportunity to grow the general fund reserve to 6.5 percent, said State Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, another member of th Joint Budget Committee. “For Coloradans, this means we have sufficient money on hand to address unforeseen evens like flood and wildlife response and recovery. This allows the state to immediately help Coloradans when they have the greatest need for assistance.”