Ritter signs $19.2B budget into law | AspenTimes.com

Ritter signs $19.2B budget into law

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Gov. Bill Ritter signed Colorado’s new $19.2 billion budget on Friday, a spending plan that includes cuts to health clinics and suspension of a tax break for seniors, but prevents cuts to higher education and safety net programs like Medicaid.

The budget, for the fiscal year that starts July 1, also includes money raised by an increase in vehicle registration fees, as well as extra money from the federal government for paying for increased demand for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, because of the economic downturn.

Between the current budget and the new budget, lawmakers had to make up for a combined $1.4 billion drop in tax revenue brought on by the recession.

Budget analysts are still adding up the varied ways lawmakers balanced the budget but say the combination of cuts and new revenue for general state services ” such as prisons, courts and education ” added up to around $1.2 billion.

About $400 million of that came from new revenue, such as suspending the senior tax break and not allowing stores to keep a portion of the sales tax. About $200 million comes from moving around money from other funds, such as the state’s tobacco settlement money and federal mineral royalties. They also cut the state’s reserve account in half, giving them an extra $140 million.

Spending on general state services is also down $500 million over what would be expected in a normal year. That includes closing one women’s prison and delaying the opening of another, freezing employee salaries and requiring unpaid furloughs or salary cuts.

Spending for schools will still rise by $146.2 million, a 4.7 percent increase, despite the downturn because annual increases are required under voter-approved Amendment 23.

Before signing the bill, Ritter praised lawmakers, including members of the Joint Budget Committee, for passing a budget that protects priorities like health care, education and economic development.

“This budget is balanced. It’s responsible, and it prepares us for the future,” Ritter said in a ceremony at his office.

The budget depends on a number of other bills still making their way through the Legislature, including one that would impose a sales tax on cigarettes to raise an estimated $30 million a year. All of those bills have to be passed before the session ends next week in order to balance the budget.

Ritter did veto several portions of the budget, including a provision allowing state colleges and universities to raise tuition above 9 percent to make up for a previously planned cut of $300 million. Lawmakers later eased that cut by making additional cuts elsewhere, such as the furloughs and pay cuts.

Despite that, some members of the budget committee still wanted to leave that provision in the budget bill. Ritter’s veto means it won’t take effect unless lawmakers decide to override him.

Higher education funding ultimately won’t be cut at all because Ritter plans to give schools $150 million in federal stimulus money to make up for what lawmakers ended up cutting.

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