Ritter acknowledges ‘tough times ahead’ in releasing budget

While everyone else in the state was focused on the elections, Gov. Bill Ritter presented his final proposed budget as governor Tuesday, addressing a projected $714.6 million revenue shortfall for the next fiscal year.

Like Ritter’s spending plans in the past three years, which have dealt with shortfalls totaling more than $5.2 billion, the governor’s proposed budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins July 1, calls for continuing some of the same unpopular budget-balancing maneuvers as cutting pay for state workers, continuing suspension of a sales tax exemption on tobacco products and dipping into several severance tax funds that normally would go to local governments.

Because states will receive little to no aid from federal Recovery Act money as they have in years past, Ritter’s budget also includes cuts in discretionary Medicaid and Children’s Basic Health Plan programs, eliminating general fund support for the state’s parks, and not funding enrollment and inflation increases to K-12 schools to the tune of about $92 million.

“Yes, these last two years have been tough, and yes, there are more tough times ahead,” Ritter said during a Denver news conference. “Revenues are rising, but not fast enough to keep up with mandatory health care, human services and education cost increases. This budget continues some of the same top, unpopular and unenviable decisions we’ve been making now for two years.”

The budget continues a reduction in the number of state employees, at least those that the governor controls. As a result, there are 3,261 fewer state workers today than there were in 2008, Ritter said.

As with numerous budget-balancing plans the recession required for the current fiscal year, Ritter again proposes taking money from severance and mineral lease funds that normally would go toward local projects.

His plan calls for transferring $27 million from Local Government Severance Tax Cash Fund, $15 million from the Local Government Mineral Impact Cash Fund, and $15 million from the Severance Tax Trust Fund into the state’s general fund to help pay for other programs.

Ritter said there still will be about $20 million in grants and $25 million in loans available from the three funds.


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