Colorado lawmakers finalize $34.1 million proposed budget for next year

    BRIEF

    The Colorado State Capitol Building on Oct. 15, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

    Colorado’s $34.1 billion proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 looks much healthier than lawmakers could have imagined a year ago, when the entire state was under coronavirus lockdown as infections surged.

    The budget package introduced Monday takes into account recent economic forecasts that painted an optimistic picture for the state’s general fund revenue — driven primarily by strong income and sales tax collections. The proposed budget, known as the long bill package, would restore or reverse many of the funding cuts that lawmakers made when anticipating a massive pandemic-induced shortfall last June. It represents an 11% increase in spending over the current fiscal year.

    “It’s been a long process from last year to this year,” Joint Budget Committee Chair Sen. Dominick Moreno said Tuesday before Senate Appropriations Committee members voted to recommend the long bill, Senate Bill 21-205, and other “orbital bills” in the budget package.

    “Last year was a year of very painful reductions, which by and large have been restored by Senate Bill 205,” added Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat. “And I do think Senate Bill 205 sets out a responsible way of moving forward.”

    Here are some highlights from the budget package, which heads next to the full Senate for consideration:

    • In total, the budget package includes $13.1 billion in appropriations from the general fund, a 21% increase over this year.

    • Across all departments in state government, the long bill would provide $11.9 billion for operating appropriations — an 11% increase.

    • The most significant funding increases — primarily a result of restoring general fund cuts made last year — would go to three departments: the Department of Higher Education, which would get a $610 million increase, nearly doubling the department’s appropriation for the current fiscal year; the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, a $602 million or a 22% increase; and the Treasury Department, a $164 million or 91% increase.

    • A bipartisan bill included in the budget package would create the Public Employees Retirement Association Cash Fund, and would initially appropriate $380 million in general fund money for the fund. Of that, $225 million would be used for direct distributions to PERA, the state pension system, in July 2022.

    • Another measure would reduce the K-12 budget stabilization factor by $480 million. The budget stabilization factor, or negative factor, is the amount of money that the Legislature owes to public school districts, according to the state’s education funding formula, but spends elsewhere.

    Senate Bill 21-224, also part of the long bill package, would transfer $327 million from the general fund to be spent mainly on capital construction and information technology projects.

    • The budget package includes a $124 million transfer from the general fund for a transportation bill that hasn’t been introduced yet.

    Coloradans can view the long bill narrative online to learn more about the proposed budget.