Feb 162004
 
Authors: Adrienne Hoenig

Sen. Ron Teck is contemplating asking voters to eliminate

funding from higher education in Colorado.

The Republican Senator from Grand Junction is part of the Joint

Budget Committee, a group of six lawmakers who have their hands

full trying to balance Colorado’s shrinking budget.

Much of this year’s budget is at the mercy of the Taxpayer’s

Bill of Rights, which limits state spending, and Amendment 23,

which requires spending for K-12 education.

“That leaves higher education in the crosshairs as the only way

we can go to solve this problem,” Teck said. “We may not have any

other choice to solve this budget conundrum.”

Other members of the JBC agree.

“The whole reason for his bill is because we recognize that

between Amendment 23 and TABOR there will be no option but to

continue to reduce (the amount of the) General Fund that goes to

higher education and to the future,” said Rep. Brad Young, R,

chairman for the JBC.

TABOR places tight restrictions on tax increases, giving

lawmakers little flexibility when planning the budget. Along with

other constitutional restraints, higher education often carries the

burden of budget cuts, said Rep. Angie Paccione, D, research

associate for the School of Education at CSU.

“Higher education is the scapegoat of the budget,” she said.

Higher education funding received about $600 million in state

money last year, said Rep. Tom Plant, D. The state of Colorado is

already looking at about a $450 million total deficit.

Plant, a member of the JBC, said well over 90 percent of the

proposed budget is already wrapped up in Medicaid, human services,

corrections and K-12 education.

“All that’s left really is higher education,” Plant said. “It’s

the only place that you’ve got left where $450 million of cuts are

an option, albeit an extremely poor option.”

The end result of such a large budget cut would increase tuition

significantly for students as state universities such as CSU.

“It would have a dramatic impact on the operation of every

public institution in the state,” said Gerry Bomotti, vice

president for Administrative Services. “That’s not an insignificant

amount of money, we would miss it.”

ASCSU President Jesse Lauchner hopes Teck’s idea will send a

wake-up call to Colorado voters.

“That’s one approach to kind of opening the eyes of the general

public,” Lauchner said. “No student would like to see the state cut

higher education from the budget.”

Members of the JBC said the situation is ultimately in the

voters’ hands.

“Higher education in Colorado will change as we know it if we’re

no longer able to pay for it,” Plant said. “I prefer to give voters

an opportunity to change it in November.”

Sen. Peggy Reeves, D, a member of the JBC, hopes voters will opt

to amend TABOR and allot some money to higher education.

“I don’t think we would be very proud of a Colorado that did not

have a strong higher education system,” Reeves said.

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