Colorado’s tough budget choices

There’s no question that a quality public education system — from K-12 through college — is critical to developing a sound economic future.

But it’s equally clear that, given Colorado’s current revenue situation, there’s not enough money available to fund all state programs at even the same levels we managed previously. And public education is one budge area of that’s most easily cut.

So it’s not a great surprise — even if it is worrisome — that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s first budget proposes to cut $375 million from public education. That’s the lion’s share of the $570 million in cuts Hickenlooper has proposed for the fiscal-year budget that begins July 1.

His plan also calls for cuts in prisons, state parks, trails and other areas, as well as boosting the state’s budget reserve from 2 percent to 4 percent of the general fund.

Put yourself in the governor’s chair, or those of state lawmakers. Would you sacrifice what is undoubtedly a long-term benefit for the state — maintaining funding for a high-quality education system — to meet the short-term budget needs and keep taxes static?

Some Democrats, notably Rep. Mark Ferrandino of Denver, argued this week that Hickenlooper’s budget should be a wake-up call for Coloradans. He believes it’s time to ask state voters to raise taxes to prevent drastic cuts in public education and other needs.

On the other side, some Republicans, such as Sen. Steve King of Grand Junction, believe the state should be cutting taxes to spark business growth.

King has proposed phasing out the business personal property tax over the next 10 years. Colorado legislative staff estimates his plan will cost state coffers $2.5 million two years from now, and it would reduce property tax revenue for schools statewide $52 million in that year.

We’re not happy about further cuts to education. They will clearly have a real impact here in Mesa County.

However, neither raising taxes nor significantly reducing them appears politically feasible in Colorado right now. If that assumption is correct, it’s difficult to fault Hickenlooper for putting forth a budget plan that is heavy on cuts to public education.

But Hickenlooper’s budget is only a proposal. It will be up to state lawmakers of both parties to craft and approve a budget that recognizes the economic reality in Colorado right now.

It’s decision time. What would you do?


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