Ritter unveils new cuts for yet another lean budget

Gov. Bill Ritter presented his budget-balancing plan Thursday that addresses yet another $1 billion to cover an expected revenue shortfall.

The governor said balancing next year’s budget was particularly hard because it comes on top of more than $2 billion the state has addressed over the past two budgets.

As with previous cuts, Ritter said these won’t come without pain for just about everyone, particularly the Department of Corrections. During the last round of cuts, Ritter closed a women’s prison in Canon City. This time it’s an inmate boot camp program at Buena Vista Correctional Facility.

But Ritter said some of his recidivism programs have begun to bear fruit, allowing the department to save about $18.5 million in reduced inmate populations. More than half of that savings, however, will be used to open part of a new prison in Canon City. Ritter had delayed its opening this year to save money.

That opening calls for hiring nearly 230 new prison guards and support personnel, but Ritter said the number of state workers still is below what it was in 2008.

Republicans often have criticized the governor for not doing enough in cutting state personnel or reducing salaries, saying instead he’s increased the number of state workers since taking office in 2007.

But Ritter said there are 1,150 fewer workers on the state payroll than there were when the economy first went sour.

“Those employees haven’t had a pay raise for two years,” the governor said. “This year, they had eight furlough days, and next year they take a 2 1/2 percent pay cut. For anybody who wants to be a critic of that, why don’t they stand in front of a group of employees and ask them what more we should do without impacting ... all of those things that are critical services of government?”

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said Ritter is again using gimmicks to balance the budget. He said more than half of the governor’s plan calls for using federal stimulus money and transferring funds from cash accounts.

“The governor and the Democrats shouldn’t break their collective arm patting themselves on the back,” he said. ” Oh, and by the way, the governor failed to mention that the single largest action Democrats have taken to balance the budget is to raise taxes on business, families and seniors by hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Penry was referring to a series of bills Ritter is expected to sign in the next week that eliminates or suspends several tax exemptions, which are estimated to generate about $118 million over the next two years.

The governor’s plan for the 2010-11 budget, which begins July 1, does rely on additional cash-account transfers, including funds that pay for local water and community projects from taxes collected on oil and gas drilling and federal mineral leases.

It marks the fourth time in the past two years the Legislature and the governor have dipped into those accounts. Since 2008, the state has taken at least $73 million from such projects.

On Thursday, legislators approved a slew of bills reducing about $377 million in spending from all state agencies, but part of that called for transferring nearly $113 million from various cash accounts.

Last year, the governor announced several closures to help balance the current year’s budget, including eliminating 32 beds at the Grand Junction Regional Center. That move was supposed to save the state about $1.3 million, but that was overestimated. The actual savings isn’t yet known, but it is expected to be less.


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