Higher education hit again in new budget

A new round of state budget adjustments will punch higher education the hardest, but it won’t leave a bruise this year.

The $286.2 million plan Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, presented to the Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday draws 54 percent of its cuts from public colleges and universities. The money will be backfilled completely by federal stimulus dollars, but using the money now will decrease the amount available for next year. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars are supposed to help support higher education funding through May 2012.

Specifics of which institutions and organizations will face budget cuts will be announced Nov. 6.

Mesa State College is expected to have $4 million of state funding replaced with ARRA money under the new plan, bringing the total loss of state dollars going to the college to $10.3 million this year, Mesa State spokeswoman Dana Nunn said.

“Of course that news is difficult to hear, but we are resilient and have been working for the last five years to make sure that we are operating as efficiently as possible while still growing both in enrollment and quality academic programs,” Mesa State President Tim Foster said.

So far, $230 million has been cut from higher education in 2009-10 in Colorado. Some of that money has been backfilled by ARRA money, which will not be available in three years.

The governor’s plan also proposes the state wait until the next fiscal year arrives July 1 to pay Medicaid providers for the last two weeks of June, pushing the $16.3 million bill onto the 2010-11 budget.

Physical health and managed care providers that see Medicaid patients will receive 1 percent less funding starting Dec. 1. The 1 percent cut does not apply to mental health, class 1 nursing, and prescription drug providers or rural health and federally qualified health centers, and it will free up $3.1 million for the general fund.

The governor also plans to transfer $45.1 million from an ARRA state fiscal stabilization fund to the general fund.

Other budget alterations include:

Refinancing certificates of participation, which fund capital construction projects at state colleges and universities with federal mineral lease revenue, to save $10.8 million via low interest rates.

Moving $6 million from the Fitzsimmons Trust Fund for certificate of participation payments to the capital construction fund, then scooping $6 million out of capital construction for the general fund.

Transferring a $14.2 million slice of gaming revenue to the general fund instead of the state’s clean energy fund.

Taking $2.8 million away from the county tax base relief program that subsidizes counties with low property values and/or high social-services case loads.

A one-time transfer of $2.5 million from the Department of Corrections canteen cash fund to the education subprogram’s personal services budget line item in order to free up money for the general fund.

Withholding $37.4 million in grants paid for with severance tax revenue until June 30, 2010.

Refilling $3 million from the child welfare services block general fund with federal dollars from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund.

Unless otherwise noted, many of the changes will take effect Sunday.

The total amount of budget cuts and rearrangements this year comes to $2.04 billion.

With a projected shortfall of $1.3 billion next year, balancing the 2010-11 budget will be an even harder task than adjusting the current budget, Ritter said. The budget for next year doesn’t account for areas that usually grow each year, including K-12 education funding and salary- and performance-based pay increases, or the cost of opening Colorado State Penitentiary II and expanding the Developmental Disabilities Resources Center.

“This isn’t a one-time hiccup or temporary blip,” Ritter said during a news conference Wednesday morning in Denver. “This is a massive correction and a new economic reality. And we’re adapting and adjusting the state’s budget accordingly by being fiscally responsible, surgical and compassionate.”

Leaders from the other side of the aisle disagreed with Ritter’s comments Wednesday. House Republican Leader Mike May, a Parker Republican, said the adjustments “merely delay the inevitable.”

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, a Grand Junction Republican running for Ritter’s seat, said some of the governor’s proposals are helpful, but “most are gimmicks, half-measures or short-term fixes that only kick the can down the road.”


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