USA — Gov. John Hickenlooper signed next year’s Colorado budget on Wednesday, increasing dollars for schools and colleges, boosting the state’s rainy day fund, and spending money for a state-owned aerial fleet to try to spot wildfires sooner.
The budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is about $23 billion – a figure that includes federal dollars and fees. It’s an increase from the current budget, which is about $21 billion.
With improving tax revenues, lawmakers were able to increase funding for public schools to keep up with enrollment and inflation, raising per-student funding at public schools by more than $200 to $6,875. Public colleges and universities are getting an extra $100 million to limit tuition increases and help with financial aid.
The state’s general-fund budget reserves, which dipped to 2 percent during the recession, are increasing to 6.5 percent, so the fund stands at $576.4 million. Currently, the reserves are at 5 percent.
When it comes to making spending decisions, lawmakers control the general fund, which is made up of state tax revenue. That fund is about $8.7 billion of the $23 billion next year.
Other budget highlights:
-General Fund Reserves – This budget package raises the amount of revenue set aside in reserve to 6.5 percent of General Fund appropriations. This represents significant progress from the 2 percent reserve from just three years ago, and places Colorado on much firmer footing when the inevitable next revenue downturn comes.
– Firefighting: The budget sets aside nearly $20 million so the state can buy two spotter planes to detect fires within an hour after the first sighting of smoke. The money will also allow the state to contract four helicopters and four single-engine tankers. The state currently contracts two single-engine tankers.
– K-12 Education – In fiscal year 2014-15, spending on K-12 Education will keep pace with enrollment plus inflation and continues our recovery from the effects of the “Great Recession” by maintaining efforts to reduce the negative factor. The budget also includes targeted increases in special education programs for children with disabilities, English language proficiency programs, public school transportation, career and technical programs and gifted and talented programs.
– Higher education student aid – The budget includes more than $100 million in additional funding for institutions of higher education, including $40 million for financial aid. The budget slows tuition growth at institutions across all of Colorado.
– Law enforcement stability – The budget accommodates growing demand for the services of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. It includes funding for expanded laboratory operations in both Denver and Pueblo to allow the CBI to test thousands of sexual assault kits that, before the passage of H.B. 13-1020, local law enforcement agencies were unable to test. The governor also anticipates signing legislation that uses the revenue from legalized marijuana to protect and educate children and to enforce responsible rules and regulations for this new industry.
– Reforms to Colorado’s parole system – The budget sets aside funding for critical enhancements to important parole programs in the Department of Corrections. The initiatives are aimed to ease offenders’ transitions from prison to parole, to reduce caseload ratios for parole officers.
– Economic development – The budget supports economic development initiatives that began last year, including investments in programs and projects to assist Colorado companies in burgeoning industries ranging from aerospace to medical devices.
Driver’s license modernization – This budget includes an increase for the Department of Revenue to modernize its driver’s license offices, both with advanced technology and better staffing. When enhancements are fully implemented, Colorado drivers are expected to wait less than 15 minutes when renewing licenses.