Ritter signs $18.2B Colorado budget | AspenTimes.com

Ritter signs $18.2B Colorado budget

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter talks about new legislation that he signed into law on the west steps of the Capitol in Denver on Monday, April 19, 2010, that will require power plants to cut air pollution. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter signed a $18.2 billion budget into law Thursday, saying it contained some tough cuts but that the pain was fairly spread across the board.

“This budget is fair, it’s thoughtful, it’s responsible and it’s balanced,” Ritter said during a ceremony flanked by legislative leaders and members of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.

It will take effect in July when the state’s fiscal year begins.

Schools will get $365 million, or 6.4 percent, less than they normally would have because lawmakers changed the way they interpreted Amendment 23, the voter-approved law that requires that certain parts of education funding increase each year. The cut has some school districts planning for layoffs.

About $9.4 million in savings in the prison system – due to slower growth in the inmate population – will be spent to open a new high-security solitary confinement unit at a new branch of the Colorado State Penitentiary, which has been on hold since the recession began.

Lawmakers also ended or suspended tax exemptions on things like online sales, takeout food containers and industrial energy bills to raise an estimated $130 million a year to help balance the budget.

Overall, the budget paid for with tax dollars is increasing by about $399 million, or 6 percent. Tax revenues are projected to rise by 5.8 percent in the new fiscal year after falling by a total of $1.3 billion over the last two years. However, much of the extra revenue will make up for federal stimulus money that’s running out.

Another bill that’s still pending could give the state more money to spend. It would suspend a property tax break for senior citizens for another two years, which would give the state a total of nearly $200 million to spend in the new fiscal year and the one that starts in July 2011.

Some of that money could be needed to re-balance this year’s budget once the state learns in June how much money it actually took in during the current budget year. Most of the state’s income tax revenue doesn’t come in until after the April 15 deadline.

Republicans argue that the tax break should be restored since it’s not needed to balance the budget.

Ritter said his 85-year-old mother would lose her tax break but said having that money would prevent deeper cuts to public schools as well as higher education.

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