Oct 062010
Authors: Justin Rampy

Next year, Colorado’s budget is projected to sustain an estimated $900 million shortfall that includes the $202 million shortfall experienced in the current fiscal year, according to the Economic and Revenue Forecast published late last month.

Because Colorado’s legislature does not start preparing the state budget until November, an analyst for the Joint Budget Committee, JBC, said that it’s too soon to say if, and by how much, higher education funding would be cut.

By March each year, the JBC submits a proposed budget to the state’s General Assembly for approval. The draft budget is broken down by the fiscal needs of each of the state’s 25 departments and subsequent divisions.

Eric Kurtz is a staff analyst who oversees the JBC’s Higher Education Department. In the coming months, he and others within the JBC have the arduous task of splitting the $900 million deficit between state departments.

According to Kurtz, more than 90 percent of the state’s budget is allocated between six departments he dubbed “the big six.” These include Higher Education, Health Care, Corrections, Judicial matters, K-12 Education and Human Services.

Human Services helps people with comparative disadvantages: those under the umbrella of child welfare and people with disabilities who are not able to support themselves independently. Suffice it to say, Kurtz doesn’t see much room to remove funding within
that sector.

K-12 Education funding is constitutionally protected to increase every year at the very least, by the rate of inflation, preventing the JBC from making cuts from the department.
In addition, Health Care is matched dollar-for-dollar by the federal government, therefore “the more we put in, the more they put in,” Kurtz said.

That leaves Corrections, Higher Education and the Judiciary field to take the bulk of the proposed cuts. Kurtz alluded that this can be done in a number of ways.

Corrections can be cut by reducing sentencing and jail time, so less money is poured into the survival of each inmate. Likewise, there are miscellaneous cuts to be had within the Judicial Department.

“The rest is left to higher education,” Kurtz said.

After receiving a copy of the draft budget in March, the General Assembly will debate and make any changes it feels is necessary before instituting the budget bill in May of 2011. Before finalizing the budget, however, the JBC will take a look at financial proposals submitted to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education by the state’s universities.

In these proposals, sent in by 5 p.m. Friday, universities and colleges submitted requests to increase tuition above the state cap of 9 percent –– a means of counteracting cuts in state appropriations.

CSU could be looking at tuition increases up to 20 percent for in-state students if the state cuts its allocation to the university by a projected $11 million. This is an example of a “cost-cutting measure” Kurtz said many universities will need to engage in if they are to stay within budget.
There is hope, however, for in-state students not just in Colorado, but also around the country.

The U.S. Department of Education this week posted on its website a report that showed an increase in the number and total dollar amount of Federal Pell Grant Awards in fiscal year 2009-10 as compared with 2008-09. The Pell Grant is awarded based on income tax, household size, savings, investments, state residency and employment status.

Depending on the state district in which the student lives, he or she has between a 30 to 46 percent better chance of receiving a Pell Grant Award, and each district has between 62 to 83 percent more cash to spread around to those students receiving awards.

While the impact of the state’s deficit on CSU’s budget is yet to be fully grasped, students can be assured that “CSU is committed to making its education affordable to low- and middle-income students,” said CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander Wednesday.

This will be made possible through programs like the Commitment to Colorado, a financial aid initiative that allows students whose families make less than $57,000 annually to pay no more than half of CSU tuition or fees, and other programs, Bohlander said.

Staff writer Justin Rampy can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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