Colorado gov: More tough budget cuts expected

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter talks about proposed budget cuts during a news conference at the Capitol in Denver on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2010. Ritter plans to close a $262 million shortfall in this year's state budget by using federal stimulus funds and severance taxes. The governor's also includes a one-month delay in Medicaid payments to save $55 million, and an additional $35 million in savings to maintain a 2.5 percent reserve in case revenues continue to drop.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter on Wednesday warned state lawmakers that they will be facing more of the same unpopular budget cuts that were made over the past three years as they grapple with a $715 million shortfall next year.

The governor presented his $19.1 billion budget proposal to the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, saying it may be one of the toughest budgets they would have to tackle. So far, lawmakers have covered $4.5 billion in revenue shortfalls over the past three years.

“Be open to program cuts we haven’t had to consider up to this point, because in the final analysis, this is about balancing the budget, maintaining essential services and preserving the safety net as best we can,” he said.

“This budget continues to spread the burden, the pain and the solutions among state employees, senior citizens, schools, people who use our parks, retail customers, Medicaid clients, businesses and more,” he added.

His plan includes more cuts for public education, reducing prison populations and state programs and other cuts that they have been able to avoid so far to balance the state budget.

Robert Gibson, who represents about 3,000 members of the state employees union Colorado WINS, said the budget cuts have taken a huge toll among state workers and the services they provide.

“For the past few years, we’ve been shortchanging essential services and that has consequences – lower quality education for our children, long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, crumbling roads, increased safety risks to our communities,” he said.

He said one of the tough choices facing lawmakers is whether to cut state employees and services, or to end services like road maintenance, state parks and health care for veterans.

State Rep. Cheri Gerou, a Republican from Evergreen who was elected vice-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, said state-budget makers will have to cut more services and programs.

“We know it’s not going to be good,” she said.

The announcement kicked off several months of hearings for the budget committee, which sets state spending priorities.

The committee will draft its own budget proposal and the full Legislature will vote on the final package next March