Budget writers await final fiscal forecast
DENVER — The Colorado Legislature reached the middle point of the 2014 session on Saturday, but lawmakers haven’t yet done the only thing the law requires of them, pass a state budget for the coming fiscal year.
That’s the goal for the second half of the session, which really won’t begin until March 18 when the Legislature receives its final revenue forecast before completing what is expected to be a spending plan that may reach $21 billion.
Because lawmakers don’t yet know how much money they will have to spend in the next fiscal year, which beings July 1, several measures — 86 to date — have been piling up in the in-boxes of the House and Senate appropriations committees. Together, the bills are asking to spend nearly $300 million on various projects and programs.
The forecast isn’t expected to be enough to fund them all, so the sponsors of each are waiting to see which ones will live and which will die.
Those bills, by the way, don’t include several other measures and spending requests that have yet to reach the money committees, including a $300 million increase for K-12 education, nearly $190 million in capital construction projects, and a request from Gov. John Hickenlooper to increase the state’s rainy day fund by $80 million.
The coming legislative battle will be over what deserves funding.
“The priorities had better be to continue with the infrastructure issues, K-12’s a priority, and we’ve got a little bit more money for higher ed this year,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. “It looks like the drunk monkeys are lining up. It is amazing to see how much money is starting to add up. Hopefully, we’ll take them in line of priority.”
The vast majority of those bills have been introduced by Democrats, though a handful have sponsors from both parties.
The problem is the same that previous Legislatures have contended with following multi-year recessions. While it’s relatively easy to tell various lobbies that their special interests will have budget cuts because everyone sees them, it’s not a simple task keeping them at bay when budgets are flush.
The last revenue forecast in December showed that state revenues had increased by about $1.8 billion, and next week’s report is expected to show even more.
But much of that money is already earmarked toward restoring about $4 billion in cuts that have been made over the last four years.
“There are a lot of requests for money, revenue is coming up, but revenue is not coming up enough to meet everyone’s request so there will be a lot of conversations about how we prioritize,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. “As we look at all these bills, especially in education, what I always worry about is … is it sustainable? There’s a lot of competing priorities, but education is definitely the number one priority for us.”