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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Governor Proposes Cutting $632 Million from Budget

January 16, 2009

By STEVEN K. PAULSON
Associated Press Writer

DENVER—Gov. Bill Ritter recommended Friday that lawmakers cut $632 million from the current state budget, with major reductions for higher education, public education and health care. He also warned that more cuts are coming.

Ritter said his top priorities are public safety and public health, and despite his proposed cuts, he said he wants to protect higher education as much as he can.

Todd Saliman, Ritter's budget director, told lawmakers the state faces a $632 million shortfall in this year's $18.6 billion operating budget—and that that figure could soar to more than $1 billion over the next two years.

"The governor's plan is to try to fairly distribute the pain across the entire state government," Saliman told the Joint Budget Committee, which will have to vote on final cuts in coming weeks before working on more cuts for next year's budget.

Ritter recommended eliminating $1.8 million for military dependents in public schools, $34 million for full-day kindergarten construction, $4.9 million for charter school construction and $1.2 million set aside for teacher recruiting.

He called for cutting $30 million from higher education and $3.1 million from the children's basic health plan. Another $13 million could be saved by setting a cap of $5,000 for businesses that are allowed to keep sales taxes to cover expenses.

Ritter also wants to freeze 64 construction projects on top of 12 already frozen, saving $95 million.

Jane Urschel, deputy director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said school boards don't want to get into a fight with higher education over which branch of education bears the brunt of the crisis. She said eliminating programs for early childhood education may just be the beginning.

"Promises can't be kept. There's no money," she said.

University of Colorado President Bruce Benson said the state needs to loosen the reins on colleges and universities to give them greater freedom. He said higher education never fully recovered from the last recession that began in 2002 and that it's again on the chopping block.

Benson said state laws that bar universities from entering multiyear contracts, for example, make it almost impossible to work with other schools on research grants. He said new construction has been put on hold, and only critical positions are being filled.

Rep. Jack Pommer, a member of the Joint Budget Committee, said it could take 10 years for higher education to recover under the budget proposal. He noted that many services, including prison guards and child welfare, are in jeopardy.

"It seems like we can either cut everything, or as much as we can, to a point where we're doing a lousy job on everything, or we can say that Colorado can no longer afford the government that it had before the tax cuts and the recession and all of that, get rid of some big things, and then do a good job on all of the rest," Pommer said.