DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper turned in his first budget to the Legislature on Tuesday, calling for further cuts to education and another suspension of tax breaks for senior citizens.
K-12 schools will see $97 million drop, an average cut of $160 per student. But the cut is less than a third of the size of the one Hickenlooper proposed after taking office last year, when he amended former Gov. Bill Ritter’s proposal.
Colleges will see a cut of $77 million, meaning many students will get less aid from the state.
“This doesn’t make us happy. I don’t see any way to get around it,” Hickenlooper said.
But the cuts are unavoidable because required spending on Medicaid is increasing faster than tax revenue is growing, he said.
Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, who serves on the Legislature’s budget committee, criticized Hickenlooper for not reforming health care programs to control costs.
It’s up to the Legislature to pass the budget and send it back to Hickenlooper next spring. The governor’s call to again suspend the senior homestead exemption — a property tax break for senior homeowners — puts him on a collision course with House Republicans, who pledged this summer to restore the tax break.
“The days of balancing Colorado’s budget on the backs of seniors are over,” said Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, in a July news release.
But Hickenlooper asked Republicans how they would fund the tax break.
“Do they want additional cuts to higher ed? Are there going to be additional cuts to K-12 education?” Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper also wants to use $64 million in gas and oil tax money to balance the budget. That money is earmarked for local governments and water projects, and rural lawmakers have rebelled against the state’s repeated confiscation of the money since the recession began.
A barely improving economy means next year’s budget will grow slightly.
The overall budget will grow to $18.7 billion. The general fund, which the Legislature controls, will climb to $7.4 billion, a 3.2 percent increase. But Medicaid consumes almost all of that increase, leaving less for other departments at a time of growing demand for government services.
Hickenlooper faced a deadline to submit the budget, so he could not wait to see Tuesday’s election results on Proposition 103, which sought an extra $3 billion in taxes for education over five years. The proposition failed!
Reach Joe Hanel at firstname.lastname@example.org.