Colo. budget officials: Cuts may need to go deeper

DENVER — Comparing Colorado’s economic recovery to a hangover, state budget officials warned lawmakers today that Gov. Bill Ritter may be forced to cut another $189 million from this year’s budget because of a sluggish economic recovery.

Legislative economist Jason Schrock told lawmakers that Colorado’s economic recovery is like having a hangover: “You’re a little bit slower, a little less energetic” than expected, he said.

Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said the governor’s budget analysts believe the shortfall will be a little bit smaller when the budget year ends next June, but the governor still hopes to cut $256 million, even though he could leave the bulk of the problem to the new governor, who will take office in January.

Economists said Ritter could wait for the new governor and legislature in January to decide how much to cut to account for an increase in Medicaid caseloads and whether to bring the budget reserve from the current 2 percent minimum to the required 4 percent. Ritter could choose to only cover state revenue shortfalls, estimated at $47 million.

“In fairness to the next legislature and the next governor, that would not be the responsible thing to do,” Dreyer said.

State Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee that sets state spending priorities, said Ritter should focus on a figure somewhere in between so lawmakers have some discretion in January when they will have updated figures.

“We’ll use the recommendations from the current governor as a starting point,” he said.

In June, Ritter was forced to cut $60 million from this year’s $18.2 billion budget, using money from marijuana registrations, cutting funding for the Department of Corrections and taking money from severance taxes and federal mineral lease revenues from local communities.

Ritter is required by law to submit a proposed budget on Nov. 1 for the next fiscal year beginning July 1, where he may be required to cover another $1.1 billion estimated shortfall.



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