Colorado lawmakers prepare to make nearly $1B in cuts | AspenTimes.com
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Colorado lawmakers prepare to make nearly $1B in cuts

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” State lawmakers are preparing to make another nearly $1 billion in cuts to this year’s budget and next year’s budget by the end of the week following a grim economic forecast.

The forecast released last week by legislative economists predicted the recession would go deeper and last longer in Colorado than originally expected, largely because of the number of layoffs and furloughs that quickly followed the financial crisis. The economists recommended that $207.5 million be cut from this year’s budget. But on Monday, budget staffers said that figure was really about $156 million because of other cuts already recommended by the Joint Budget Committee.

Based on the forecast, the committee will also have to cut another $786 million out of its proposed budget for next year. That would bring the total cuts for next year to $922 million.

Committee members are due to present both rounds of cuts to lawmakers next week, about a week behind schedule.

Although a roomful of lobbyists waited to see what was being considered, budget committee members released no details Monday on their so-called “ugly list” of possible cuts. More details were expected to emerge Tuesday as members start their discussion in earnest.

Most of the state’s budget is spent on Medicaid, public schools, higher education and prisons. Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, said shutting down 17 other state departments wouldn’t even cut $500 million out of the budget.

“We’re not a big spending state. We don’t have luxuries,” she said.

Lawmakers are limited in what they can do this year because the state is three-quarters through its fiscal year. Furloughs, for example, would save the state $1 million a day, but there are only about 90 days left in the fiscal year. The state could also save $91 million by taking back a tax break for seniors, but many seniors have already paid their property taxes based on that break.

That’s something lawmakers could still do next year.

Other possibilities include changing sentencing laws, taking more money out of the state’s reserve fund, and reducing the rate the state pays to private prisons for housing its inmates.

They’ve already recommended not opening a women’s prison for next year.

Also still murky is how the federal stimulus money may help close the budget shortfall.

The stimulus package includes an estimated $752 million over two years to reverse state budget cuts due to the recession. About 80 percent of that money, $615 million, must be spent on kindergarten through 12th grade schools and higher education. The balance can be spent on any other kind of budget cuts. However, it’s up to Gov. Bill Ritter to decide how to spend that money, and his budget director Todd Saliman said he didn’t expect a proposal until mid-April, about three weeks before lawmakers adjourn.


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