Guv’s budget: Seniors pay; students lose

Public schools and higher education will see more cuts, seniors still won’t get their property tax break, and the state will once again dip into severance taxes to help balance next year’s budget.

All of that, at least, is called for under Gov. John Hickenlooper’s first proposed spending plan released Tuesday.

Although the Legislature’s forecasts for how much revenue it expects to get have leveled off in recent months, the state still faces a $660 million budget shortfall next year.

To deal with it, Hickenlooper is proposing cutting K–12 spending another $89 million on top of the $261.4 million cut it was dealt in this year’s budget, and trimming higher education again by an additional $60.3 million, including $24.6 million in need-based financial aid.

Additionally, the governor is recommending the Colorado Legislature not allocate $96.8 million to the senior homestead exemption and transfer $63.9 million in severance tax money to the general fund to help balance the state’s $18.7 billion budget for the 2012–13 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Some of those ideas could be problematic for legislative Democrats, who are balking at the additional cuts to education, and Republicans, who have said they want the senior property tax break reinstated.

Even though lawmakers have not funded the property tax exemption in years, including in years when the GOP controlled both chambers of the Legislature, Republicans called not funding it again next year a tax increase on seniors.

“The governor’s budget does raise some points of concern, like increasing taxes on seniors who have been hit so hard by this recession,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, an Evergreen Republican and a member of the Joint Budget Committee that will draft next year’s spending plan.

On a recent tour of Grand Junction, House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said he plans to lead the fight to see the property tax exemption funded next year.

But House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, said while it would be nice to fund everything, that’s just not the financial reality the state is in. He warned Republicans not to take too hard a stance on any part of the budget.

“I don’t think anybody should be drawing any lines in the sand,” Pace said. “It would be difficult to fund the property tax exemption and reduce the cuts to education. We’re all going to take our lumps in programs that we care about.”


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