GOP, Spending Hawks Concerned With Direction of Colorado Budget

Colorado state capitol building
Colorado state capitol building / Wikimedia Commons

Colorado’s budget will top $32.3 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, nearly a 5 percent increase in spending over the previous year, and that concerns some Republicans and government watchdogs.

Paul Prentice, senior fellow at the Independence Institute’s Fiscal Policy Center and a professor at Colorado Technical University, said the budget is evidence of how "massive and complex" Colorado state government has become, despite constraints put in place by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).

The TABOR constitutional amendment limits how much revenue the state can collect and spend.

"Every dollar spent by the State of Colorado must first come from the private sector in one form or another. TABOR minimizes the amount the State can take, thus maximizing the amount left to the general public," Prentice said. "One reason the Colorado State economy is growing faster than the national average, is that State spending is growing below the national average due to TABOR."

The operating budget was introduced Monday by the Joint Budget Committee in Senate Bill 207. It seeks to spend 4.8 percent more in the next fiscal year.

While the budget reports $32.3 billion in spending, $30.5 billion is a more accurate number due to how state agencies count funds, according to the Colorado Sun.

The budget includes $185 million to fund free kindergarten. That's more than $40 million less than Gov. Jared Polis requested for all-day kindergarten, an issue he made a campaign priority.

The bill appropriates $5.85 billion for education, in addition to the funding for kindergarten. Higher education receives a 6.8 percent bump from the previous year, a $282 million increase.

Funding for transportation received a $314 million increase, 17 percent more than last year.

The largest appropriation for the budget goes to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing with $10.6 billion, $6 billion of which comes from the federal government.

The state is expected to have a $1 billion budget surplus in the fiscal year.

The bill was discussed by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and is expected to be debated in front of the full Senate on Thursday.

Sage Naumann, spokesman for the Senate GOP, said Republicans are concerned with the direction of the budget.

"We greatly appreciate the work the Joint Budget Committee has done in preparing this budget, but have some concerns regarding the direction our budget is heading when put into perspective with our economic forecast," he said in an email. "While our year-to-year base continues to grow, priorities such as repairing and improving our roads has seemed to fall by the wayside, and we hope to work across the aisle to ensure both of those are addressed during the upcoming budget debates."