Governor John Hickenlooper delivered his budget plan for the 2011-2012 fiscal year to the Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday. The Governor is proposing a total of $570 million in budget reductions on top of the cuts suggested by former Governor Bill Ritter last year.
"This budget proposal is about tough choices and sustainability. Frankly, it is about living within our means at a difficult time," Hickenlooper said of his plan, which entails a $375 million net reduction to K-12 education funding, and $36 million in cuts to higher education.
The cuts would result in $497 less per K-12 pupil, and $877 less per college student in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
The Governor's budget plan also calls for closing four state parks, as well as the shuttering of a state drug treatment facility and the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility.
The further cuts (on top of those proposed by Ritter) became necessary after the Legislative Council reduced the 2011-2012 revenue forecast in December.
On top of the cuts made necessary by the more conservative economic forecast, Hickenlooper also proposed raising the amount of the general fund kept in reserve from 2% to 4%. This will need to be offset by an additional $141.5 million in cuts.
That proposal didn't sit well with some Democrats on the Joint Budget Committee. In particular, Senator Pat Steadman, a Democrat from Denver, expressed problems with this part of Hickenlooper's budget.
Other Democrats respectfully responded to Hickenlooper's budget presentation by urging the Governor to consider measures to increase revenues.
"There is another side of the budget, and that's the revenue side. It's these difficult decisions that we should be bringing to the people of Colorado," Representative Mark Ferrandino told Hickenlooper.
Raising revenue by increasing tax rates would require voter approval, and would not therefore be plausible for the next fiscal year. Nonetheless, Democrats urged Hickenlooper to consider that side of the long-term budget equation.
"'We know that economic development and education are one and the same. What we're doing is cutting economic development," Senator Rollie Heath of Boulder said in urging Hickenlooper to consider supporting measures to increase revenues.
Hickenlooper, however, reiterated his previous position against raising taxes.
'We have to be more pro-business," Hickenlooper said in response to Heath.
"In the end, the people of Colorado will decide [whether it's appropriate to increase taxes]," the Governor said. He added that he did not believe there exists "a will of people to increase taxes."
READ THE GOVERNOR'S LETTER TO THE JBC: