Budget committee backs plan to protect higher ed
April 21, 2009
DENVER ” Lawmakers who oversee the state budget have endorsed moves that could lead to furloughs for state workers but would also protect funding for state colleges and universities.
Members of the Joint Budget Committee met Tuesday to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget and largely backed the deeper cuts made by the House.
The House cuts were made to save higher education funding after lawmakers abandoned plans to take $500 million from the state-created workers compensation insurer. For example, the House backed requiring eight furlough days for most state employees to save $16 million during the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
But instead of mandatory furloughs, the budget committee voted to give departments flexibility in how they come up with $16 million in savings.
Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said they could do it by cutting salaries, leaving positions unfilled or ordering furloughs. He said public safety workers would have been exempt from furloughs, but the change means all departments must participate and share the $16 million cut.
The budget backed by the committee would cut higher education by $150 million, but that would be backfilled with federal stimulus money. The committee originally backed cutting higher education by about $450 million and gave schools the option of raising tuition to make up for the lost funding. The budget bill still gives them that power even though they’re set to get more money.
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The state will also get an extra $45 million from the federal government because of the number of Coloradans without jobs. Colorado’s unemployment rate grew to 7.5 percent in March, putting the state on track to get more Medicaid funding. The budget committee backed using some of the money to cover new Medicaid patients and some of it to reduce payments to doctors and hospitals who care for those patients by 2 percent instead of 4 percent.
The Senate is expected to vote on the budget committee’s recommended changes Wednesday. Lawmakers want to get the budget to Gov. Bill Ritter by the end of the week to give them time to override any possible vetoes.
Another possible change to the budget could also be coming.
The budget as proposed would eliminate a property tax break for senior citizens to save $91 million.
House Minority Leader Mike May said he’s crafting legislation that would suspend conservation easement payments for two years and raise an estimated $98 million, allowing lawmakers to reinstate the senior tax break.
Associated Press writer Steven K. Paulson contributed to this report.