Colorado revenue forecast improving

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Colorado lawmakers got a dose of good financial news on Friday, but they warned it is not time to go on a spending spree or try to revoke austerity measures already under way.

The news came on the same day some lawmakers were nearly reduced to tears as they were forced to cut $260 million from public schools from the program’s $3.8 billion state funding.

Cherilyn Peniston, a Democrat from Westminster, told lawmakers she was sorry the budget crisis had come to this, and she apologized to students, teachers, parents and school board members for the bill.

“I want the listening public to know how difficult this bill is for all of us,” she said.

Natalie Mullis, the Legislature’s chief economist, said the state could have an extra $262 million for next year’s budget if lawmakers approve all of the budget balancing bills that have been proposed, including a plan to take more money from the tobacco tax, cash funds and gaming revenues.

She said lawmakers will still have to cut more than $1 billion to balance next year’s budget, which begins July 1.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said lawmakers should cancel some of the tax measures that have been approved to balance the budget.

“Let’s roll back the Denver Democrats’ tax hikes this year, so that we don’t throw kill the goose that’s laying the golden revenue egg,” he said.

Mullis warned that many of the budget balancing proposals were one-time fixes, including federal stimulus funds that are going away, and a budget cliff is looming for the 2011-1012 budget. She said weak real estate markets, high debt levels, bank failures and tight credit will limit economic growth over the next few years.

“I’m still going to be gloom and doom. You still have a significant shortfall to deal with,” she said.

Todd Saliman, budget director for Gov. Bill Ritter, said the bottom line is that lawmakers won’t have to find more budget cuts on top of the ones that have already been proposed.

Rep. Kent Lambert, a Republican from Colorado Springs and a member of the Joint Budget Committee that sets state spending priorities, said any money left over should be put in a rainy day fund to cover projected future shortfalls and a potential double dip recession that could once again throw the state budget into a tailspin.

“This is very much a volatile situation,” he said.

– Associated Press