Gov. Polis releases Colorado budget plan
On Nov. 1, Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) released his budget framework. The proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23 has been submitted to the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado General Assembly.
The plan calls for $40 billion in state spending, a 3.9% increase over the prior fiscal year. Due to stipulations under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), the state cannot spend more money than it takes in from tax revenue.
The state is forecast to collect $2.8 billion more than allowable under TABOR statutes over the next three years as the state emerges from the economic downturn brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and assorted constrictions put on businesses. Forecasters are projecting that all Colorado taxpayers should receive a refund; most are expected to receive between $30 and $120, according to projections released this past summer.
“Ending the pandemic remains my top priority as Governor, but I’m also committed to improving air quality and fighting crime while reducing fees and payroll taxes and protecting our Colorado way of life. We’ve seen the challenges that the pandemic has exposed in our workforce, healthcare, and child care systems, as well as in our small business sector, all of which have added additional pressures to Coloradans facing rising costs of living,” Polis said in a press release announcing the proposed budget framework. “My proposed balanced budget aims to build on the foundation that has been laid to help Colorado recover faster and stronger, and ensure that every Coloradan has the opportunity to get ahead, while living in a safe and thriving community.”
The balanced budget, which Polis routinely referred to as “fiscally responsible” while announcing the plan, set a General Fund reserve of 15%, allowing the state some leeway should there be an unexpected drop in revenue.
The budget framework calls for increases in spending, which Polis refers to as “investments,” in multiple public sectors including Pre-K through higher education, state-sponsored healthcare programs, public safety, transportation, housing and environmental protections. The budget calls for 3% across-the-board raises for state government employees as well.
For education, the Polis budget asks for an increase of $382.1 million in state funding for K-12 education, an increase of $526 per pupil to highest-ever level. The plan also puts $300 in reserve to maintain this funding level for at least three years. The proposal makes an initial expenditure of $13 million to fund Colorado’s universal preschool program which the Polis’ office states, “will provide at least 10 hours per week of free, high-quality preschool to all four-year-olds. It will also streamline the application process for early childhood programs to increase access to services for all families through an equitable and transparent approach.”
The proposed budget also boosts higher education funding with a $42.6 million increase in operating support for the state’s colleges and universities and adds $9.8 million for student financial aid a $139 million for capital maintenance and improvements.
The governor is proposing a $113 million public safety package “with initiatives to reduce crime, ensure safer streets, build diversity in our public safety workforce, and to provide support, training, and financial support for our hard-working police officers.” $47.9 million is requested for behavioral health initiatives which, the Governor’s office states, well help to reduce recidivism and help those in crisis who could become criminals. A further $200 million is proposed in various efforts to reduce homelessness and thereby, it is argued, reduce crime in impoverished areas.
The Polis budget calls for record funding in a number of “green” initiatives totaling $424 million to, according to the press release, “(continue) our aggressive pursuit of both climate and air quality improvements. Among the proposals, $255 million will be spent on low- and zero-emission public transportation platforms, $150 million of which will be used for electric school busses. $50 million will be spent in an effort to “decarbonize” the industrial and aviation sector and calls for $52 million spent over two years to, “drastically increase resources available to our Air Pollution Control Division to monitor and regulate emissions, support changing over to cleaner technology, and more thoroughly engage with our communities.”
The proposed budget also helps Coloradoans and Colorado businesses which have been affected by the pandemic. $600 million is dedicated to pandemic-related unemployment insurance changes that hope to save money for businesses large and small. $104 million in fee relief is proposed which Polis stated will make it “free” to start a business and provide $50 million to employers to recruit new employees given the labor shortage currently seen across the state.
The proposal was well-received by the Colorado Chamber of Commerce which stated in a press release, Overall, the governor’s balanced budget proposal is good for both employers and employees, helps businesses recover and hire workers, and provides opportunities for more Coloradans. Lawmakers will be tasked with writing and passing a budget when they return to the capitol in January.”
The Colorado General Assembly will begin working with the Governor’s office in January on the proposals.
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