Apr 072004
 
Authors: Chris Kampfe

The Colorado General Assembly may have averted a fiscal tragedy

this year with a budget resolution that is about as sturdy as the

tape and twine holding it together.

The Senate met Wednesday and today for the second and third

reads, respectively, of Senate Bill 258, also known as the long

bill. The bill, which was drafted in the Joint Budget Committee,

has passed in the House of Representatives and is awaiting the

Senate’s approval before the governor reviews it.

The bill, when it is passed, outlines funding for state

programs. Each year the JBC analyzes economic forecasts from

different financial analysis committees and offices and proposes

allocations to different programs, including higher education.

Because the long bill has not been passed, total state budget

cuts are still unknown. Higher education is likely to take a

significant hit because of constitutional amendments limiting how

much money higher education can receive.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education is actively

following the bill during legislature debate, much of which is

surrounding higher education.

“Every time it goes to the floor where amendments can be made,

we watch it very closely,” said Jennifer Nettesheim, spokesperson

for the CCHE. “There have a been a number of amendments today which

all failed, some for taking away money from higher education, some

for giving us money.”

Keith Ickes, associate vice president for Administrative

Services, is not surprised that no budgetary amendments were made

to the bill.

“I don’t think that it’s surprising at this point,” Ickes said.

“The budget is so out of kilter if you add or subtract, it has to

go back to the JBC to be rebalanced.”

Sen. Peggy Reeves, D-Larimer County, said she thinks the bill

will be passed early next week.

While the initial talks of a 40 percent tuition increase were

reduced to a 1.1 percent increase, higher education will still see

cuts of roughly $27 million in the bill, according to projections

from the Joint Budget Committee on March 29.

This increase is unsatisfactory to CSU.

“One point one percent is not very much,” Ickes said. “For a

resident student that’s $32 more for a whole year, which isn’t very

much.”

Ickes said this slight increase will not be enough to cover

mandates like staff wage increases. A higher tuition increase would

have been preferable, he said.

In times of fiscal crises, higher education notoriously suffers

substantial budget cuts, said Reeves, a member of the JBC.

“Over the past few years we have made more cuts in higher ed

than any other part of the budget,” Reeves said.

Though seeing the higher education checkbook in the red may not

be encouraging to some people, reports from the Office of State

Planning and Budgeting are seeing positive numbers. State revenues

went up $22 million ahead of projected estimates. This is a sign

that the economy is building back up, Gov. Bill Owens said in a

statement published in the Denver Post.

“The light at the end of the fiscal tunnel … keeps getting

brighter and brighter,” he said.

A revenue increase has been something Colorado has lacked the

past few years, Reeves said.

“The problem the legislature has had the past few years has been

the precipitating decline of revenue,” Reeves said. “If we had

revenue coming in we’d be able to spend it. We’d be able to spend

money on higher ed rather than cutting it.”

This year’s budget complications are in part because of two

constitutional amendments, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and

Amendment 23. TABOR is a constitutional amendment that limits

taxation and state revenue growth, while Amendment 23 mandates

increases in K-12 funding. The combination of these two has put

increasingly tight restrictions on state budget writers.

On April 2, state Treasurer Mike Coffman revealed his plan to

alter the amendment. Coffman’s plan would include establishing a

savings account for the state to use during tight times, as well as

suspending the 1 percent annual increase to K-12 education in these

difficult times.

The JBC plans to address the two amendments.

“The JBC has been working on a proposal to make some

modifications to TABOR and Amendment 23,” Reeves said. “We’ve been

working on something for some time.”

Reeves will sponsor the bill in the Senate and Rep. Brad Young,

R-Lamar, will sponsor it in the House. Reeves said the bill has

bi-partisan sponsors to illustrate that issues surrounding the bill

extends beyond party lines.

“We wanted to make it a bi-partisan effort.”

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