According to a non-partisan study conducted by the University of Denver, 12 years from today, Colorado will generate only enough revenue to pay for the three largest portions of the state budget: K-12 public schools, health care and prisons.
Beyond the â€œbig three,â€ there will be no tax dollars left to fund â€œpublic colleges and universities, no money for the state court system, nothing for child-protection services, nothing for youth corrections, nothing for state crime labs and nothing for other core services of state government.â€
Our state budget is like a pie that is getting smaller every year. However, not only is the pie getting smaller, but individual pieces of the pie are getting bigger. Due to Constitutional mandates and rising costs, Colorado is losing its ability to fund anything but the â€œbig three,â€ and this will worsen over time. When Governor Hickenlooper releases his budget proposal in early November, there could be as much as $100 million in cuts to higher education across the state; about one-fifth of the stateâ€™s total higher education funding. Itâ€™s a scary moment for Colorado.
I fundamentally believe the state, like much of government, should be making serious cuts to help trim the fat off their budget; but, trimming the fat is different from removing vital organs.
Itâ€™s impossible to imagine a functioning society that eliminates its court system or child protective services. So what is it exactly that we need to fix? Well for starters, steady long term economic growth would be a major step in the right direction. The Colorado Revenue Forecast, released Sept. 20 by the Colorado Legislative Council Staff, observes that while there is evidence of a modest economic expansion, there is an increasing chance of a recession in the near future (for both Colorado and the United States). National events have created insecurity in the business community and core components of economic recovery are stale.
Net private investment in Colorado is currently 34 percent of what it was prior to the recession and the housing and construction sectors, where the recession began, continue to struggle for momentum. In the short term, Colorado, like the nation, must find ways to spur job creation and foster confidence in the business community.
Next, we have to take a look at the systemic problems with our stateâ€™s financial structure that are problematic no matter what the current economic situation might be. Regardless of how you feel about TABOR or Amendment 23, combined they are creating a challenging set of budgeting circumstances for leaders across the state.
Voters restricted revenue in all levels of government across the state by passing an amendment to Article X of the Colorado Constitution, now known as TABOR, and over time this has greatly restricted the stateâ€™s ability to collect revenue. Amendment 23, passed in 2000, mandates that the state must increase funding for k-12 schools equal to inflation plus 1 percent through 2011. After 2011, funding must continue to be increased equal to inflation. Essentially, these two functions of the state constitution are working in the opposite direction. You can imagine why state leaders are having such a difficult time enacting long term solutions.
College students are right in the middle of all of this and should have their voice heard, regardless of where opinion falls. ASCSU employs a full time lobbyist at the state capital and members of our Governmental Affairs Department testify on legislation regularly. We are working closely with policy makers to fight for higher education as well as address Coloradoâ€™s other challenges.
Please come and utilize us as a resource. This article is intended to both inform you of the challenges we face and also encourage you to get involved. ASCSU is right in the middle of all this on your behalf. Remember, if you want your opinion to get heard, you have to participate.
Let us help you do that.
Chase Eckerdt is the Director of Governmental Affairs of ASCSU.