Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing slashing spending on public schools by $375 million next school year to help shore up the state budget as federal stimulus money dries up and more unemployed people rely on Medicaid.
The proposed cut for public schools – which would amount to about $500 less per student than this year – was included in an overall budget proposal that Hickenlooper presented to state lawmakers Tuesday.
Hickenlooper is also proposing closing a state prison in Las Animas, eliminating 148 positions, closing Bonny Lake State Park and scaling back services at three other parks – Sweitzer, Harvey Gap and Paonia.
The proposal is an attempt by the new governor to come to grips with the fact that the one-time money used to help balance the budget, including federal stimulus money, is running out. The proposal also boosts Colorado’s emergency reserve fund to 4 percent of the budget – up from the current 2 percent – which is enough to pay for about two weeks of the state’s operating expenses.
Hickenlooper isn’t proposing any new tax increases for the budget year that begins in July, but his proposal assumes the tax measures passed under former Gov. Bill Ritter will remain in place. They include requiring online retailers to remind Coloradans to pay sales tax on their purchases, a measure that is being challenged in court.
The proposed education budget cut follows a $250 million cut this year. It will be up to school districts to decide how to deal with them, including whether to lay off teachers.
Jane Urschel, associate executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said Congress provided funding to avert widespread layoffs this year but she’s not hopeful that Washington will provide any more such aid.
State lawmakers will consider Hickenlooper’s proposal but will draw up their own budget and pass it before the session ends in May, sending it to the governor for his approval.
In the latest forecast on state revenue, legislative economists said Colorado could face a shortfall of at least $1 billion due to loss of federal dollars, inflation and increased demand for services like Medicaid, the health insurance plan for the poor.
Among the money set to disappear in the new budget year is $363.6 million in federal stimulus funding used for Medicaid and $89.2 million in stimulus funds for the state’s colleges and universities.