Challenge: Identify ways to slash budget

DENVER — Senate President Brandon Shaffer issued standing orders to his committee chairs Monday: Come up with other ways to cut the budget so the state won’t have to slash K–12 education by $375 million.

The Longmont Democrat said public education is a priority of state government, and he doesn’t want to see it get cut so severely as Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed last week.

Shaffer said that while he’d prefer not to cut education by any amount, he’d be happy if that cut could be limited to no more than $200 million.

“People sincerely want to preserve funding for our schools,” Shaffer said. “They understand that is the core of economic recovery in this state, to make sure we have a robust education system to support businesses out there and to give our kids a bright future.”

Last week, Hickenlooper turned more than a few heads when he included that cut to public school funding in his proposed budget for the 2011–12 fiscal year, which begins July 1. If the cut goes through, it is expected to lead to teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.

The governor also proposed increasing the state’s reserve account by $140 million, saying the legislature’s current savings account isn’t enough to fund two weeks of state government.

While House Speaker Frank McNulty said he had no plans to issue a similar order to his committee chairs, the Highlands Ranch Republican said he appreciates what Shaffer is trying to do.

Still, McNulty said the cuts to education might not be avoidable.

“There’s no doubt that we need to take a close look at all aspects of state government when looking to close the budget gap,” he said. “The bottom line is this $1.15 billion deficit was created by the Democrats spending money that we didn’t have. We now have a Democratic governor on the first floor that recognizes that it can’t be business as usual.”

The speaker said the money Hickenlooper wants to put into a reserve account isn’t an idea Republicans would be willing to give up on, either. Democrats have scoffed at putting aside that money while making such drastic cuts to schools.

“It is not wise for my Democrat friends in the Senate to spend that money not knowing what the state’s fiscal outlook is,” McNulty said.


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