DENVER – Colorado’s John Hickenlooper on Friday presented his last budget request as governor to lawmakers – one he says helps prepare the state for an eventual recession.
Hickenlooper spoke Friday before the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. The bipartisan panel will use the proposal in fashioning a state budget for fiscal years 2019-20 during next year’s legislative session.
The governor’s $33.4 billion request is nearly 5 percent, or about $1.5 billion, above the current budget.
It includes $13.2 billion in discretionary spending and would increase state reserves from 7.25 percent to 8 percent of the general fund – more than $954 million – to prepare for an economic downturn.
Hickenlooper called the request “a responsible one in the sense of accommodating what we can’t see.”
“Part of being a Coloradan is being prepared,” the governor said, noting that the credit rating agency Moody’s “still projects that we can’t withstand a moderate recession without making some cuts in the state budget.”
The Democratic governor has served the maximum two terms and leaves office in January.
Colorado has seen sustained economic growth and low unemployment in recent years, but still struggles to finance public schools, higher education and transportation projects.
Those struggles include sometimes-conflicting constitutional mandates, adopted by voters, restricting the government’s ability to raise taxes or issue bonds without asking voters. Those voters rejected ballot measures Nov. 6 that would have increased funding for public education and for transportation.
A constitutional mandate requiring annual increases in K-12 school spending has been grossly underfunded for years because of the tax-and-spend restrictions. And by law, legislators must produce a balanced budget each year.
Hickenlooper is seeking $30 million in water infrastructure over the next three years to help implement a state water plan that seeks to accommodate the needs of the growing metropolitan Front Range while ensuring agricultural areas can weather a prolonged and severe drought.
The proposal also seeks $121 million to keep tuition flat at public colleges and universities. It calls for increased tax credits for child care and more spending to cover the state’s share of Medicaid health coverage for growing numbers of the elderly.