Colorado looks to agencies for 10 percent in cuts
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER – Ritter looks to agencies for 10 percent in cuts
Associated Press Writer
DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter is asking state agencies to come up with ways to cut spending by 10 percent to close a $384 million budget shortfall.
Ritter said Thursday he wants officials to focus on eliminating the least efficient and least effective programs and said that could mean laying off some state workers. Workers already must take four furlough days in the coming year and Ritter said they may be asked to take more to balance the budget.
Ritter doesn’t plan to cut 10 percent across the board and said that some departments will likely be cut by less and others by more. He said programs involving health and safety will get priority.
The budget faces cuts as tax collections continue to fall because of the recession. On Monday, eight days before the fiscal year is set to end, lawmakers who oversee the state budget learned that they spent $249 million more than the state collected in taxes.
With so little time left, Ritter plans to use money set aside for next year’s budget to balance this year’s budget, a contingency plan backed by lawmakers before they adjourned in May. But the plan pushes this year’s shortfall into the new year for a total budget gap of $384 million.
To close that gap, Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, said the state can use about $45 million in stimulus funds given to Colorado to help balance its budget and take about $77 million out of the state’s reserve fund.
The rest, however, will have to come from cuts, she said. The cuts could include closing driver’s license bureaus, raising entrance fees for state parks and freezing tax breaks for conservation land, she said.
She said raising college tuition rates is also a possibility.
“We don’t have fat,” she said, adding that the results of the cuts will be felt by Coloradans. “They’ll notice, believe me.”
Ritter plans to implement the cuts in early August although the Legislature has the final say on spending. If lawmakers don’t like the cuts made by the governor, Keller said they could reverse them when the return to the Capitol in January – halfway through the fiscal year – but they would have to find other places to cut.
Legislative economists forecast that from the onset of the recession until the end of this fiscal year, state revenues will have fallen by a total of about $1 billion, a drop of nearly 14 percent.
The budget for the fiscal year that starts Tuesday already includes cuts to close one prison and delay the opening of another, eliminate a $91 million property tax break for senior citizens and a new tax of cigarette sales. It also cuts funding to health clinics that serve the uninsured and cuts in payments to doctors who treat Medicaid patients.
Cuts to higher education are being plugged by federal stimulus money and the state risks losing that aid if it cuts state colleges and universities any further.
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It’s that time of year — hikers and mountain bikers must be aware that seasonal closures are taking effect on multiple trails in the area today for the winter for the benefit of wildlife.