Colo. budget proposal hits K-12, higher education |

Colo. budget proposal hits K-12, higher education

DENVER ” Public schools would face a $65 million cut and higher education would lose $30 million under a proposal to close a $625 million shortfall in this year’s state budget.

The plan presented to state lawmakers Monday would also hike fees for new water wells, delay payments to a police and firefighter pension fund and cap the amount of sales tax revenue retailers are allowed to keep. Members of the Joint Budget Committee, who developed the plan, warned that worse cuts could be in store next year as tax revenues drop because of the recession.

Committee chairwoman Sen. Moe Keller, said cuts for the next fiscal year, which starts in July, could include closing two prisons and doing away with a property tax exemption for senior citizens.

“This is easy compared to that,” Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, said of this year’s cuts.

So far, fiscal analysts are expecting tax collections to be down about $600 million this year, nearly half of that because of an expected drop in capital gains taxes. Updated numbers are expected in late March.

This year’s balancing proposal would avoid deeper cuts to state services largely by taking $148 million from the state’s reserve fund and transferring $244 million out of nearly 40 funds set up to fund specific programs, such as a fund to help treat women with breast and cervical cancer. Members of the budget committee say all those funds will still have enough money left to meet demand for their services.

Last year, lawmakers increased funding for kindergarten through 12th grade schools above what they were required to do by the state constitution and the proposed cuts would reverse that. Part of the money was to be spent on expanding full-day kindergarten. In addition to the proposed $65 million in cuts, the budget committee rejected a request to increase funding by $26 million because of an increase in students, normally a routine matter at the Capitol.

The proposal to increase water well fees would raise another $500,000 for the state but has drawn criticism from rural lawmakers. New well permits would go from $100 to $665 and the fee for substitute water supply plans would go from $300 to $2,000. Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said the state is subsidizing the costs of installing new wells and the fee hikes would cover the actual costs.

The state would save $25 million by putting off its annual contribution to a pension fund to cover police and firefighters and wouldn’t start making contributions again until 2011.

Also under the budget balancing proposal, large retailers would only be allowed to keep up to $417 of the sales tax revenue they take in for the state each month. That would bring in an extra $12.8 million to the state through the end of June.

Budget committee members are warning lawmakers that one-time federal stimulus dollars likely won’t be able to stop cuts, but they are counting on getting at least $100 million in increased help in paying for Medicaid for this year. Keller said the final figure from the stimulus package might actually be $190 million.

School districts are also hoping to stimulus dollars that must be spent on education will also help them make up for what the state can’t provide.

“I’m hopeful that with the stimulus dollars we can stave off the deeper cuts,” said Jane Urschel, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

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