DENVER – You can patch a lot of potholes for $75 million.
Or send thousands of kids to college on scholarships. Or give out some nice tax credits for parents with child care expenses. Or pay to keep Amtrak trains running through Southern Colorado.
Legislators learned Tuesday that an improving economy means they will have $75 million more than expected when they start to debate the state budget this week. And there’s no shortage of ideas on how to spend the money.
Education advocates have been pushing the Legislature to reverse some of the $1 billion in cuts made through the so-called “negative factor” in the state’s school funding formula that past four years.
Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards said legislators have been arguing the state does not have the money to meet school districts’ request for an extra $200 million.
“I think this is much more positive than we were led to believe it is,” Urschel said. “Asking for $200 million in the negative factor is not at all inappropriate.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget chief, Henry Sobanet, said the administration will support some extra school spending. But Hickenlooper wants to play it safe by spending much of the money on one-time projects like building construction and roads. Any extra money for schools this year would have to be repeated in future years, too.
The Legislature’s budget committee will put the final touches on a $9.2 billion general fund budget. They also plan to stash away an extra $600 million in a rainy-day fund. The rest of the Legislature will debate the budget for two weeks, starting Monday, March 24.
It should prove to be the rosiest budget in many years, although the extra money won’t be enough to satisfy everyone.
“These are not just good times for the budget,” said Natalie Mullis, the Legislature’s chief economist. “These are the best times.”
The good news for the state budget is because of good news in the overall economy. The state has had 27 consecutive months of job growth, Sobanet said. And Mullis predicted the economy should keep cruising through 2015.