Ritter outlines plan for filling budget gap

Until Friday, School District 51 leaders had heard the governor’s proposed state budget for 2010-11 would reduce K-12 education funding anywhere from $40 million to $240 million.

Gov. Bill Ritter on Friday spelled out his plans to offset a projected $1 billion budget shortfall for Colorado’s fiscal year of July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011. And K-12 funding would decrease by $260 million, compared with this year, if the Joint Budget Committee and legislators heed his advice in the upcoming legislative session.

Amendment 23 requires legislators to increase K-12 funding by inflation plus 1 percent each year. The governor’s suggestion is legal, though, because the amendment applies to base education funding only. As much as one-sixth of a school district’s state funding, as is the case with District 51, can come on top of base formula funding. That extra amount is determined by enrollment, number of at-risk students and cost of living in a school district as well as the number of people a district employs.

Ritter will present his 2010-11 budget proposals Tuesday to the Joint Budget Committee.

Other cost-saving measures he recommends include:

Reducing higher education funding by $56 million.

Cutting pay by 2.5 percent for about 25,000 state employees. The measure would save $20.1 million. The cut would be in effect only for fiscal 2011, and the plan does not call for furlough days.

Cutting $28 million from Medicaid, although case loads have nearly doubled since 2006.

Halving the amounts given to some programs funded by gambling revenue, a $20 million reduction.

Suspending for a second year a property tax exemption for Coloradans 55 and older who have lived in their homes for 10 or more years, saving $100 million.

Adjusting or temporarily suspending 13 state special tax credits and tax exemptions, for $131.8 million in savings.

Transferring $25.7 million from a tobacco cash fund to the general fund.

Meanwhile, Ritter proposes adding $56.5 million to transportation because of new fee revenue, preserving full-day kindergarten and public pre-school programs, leaving $10.2 million for tourism and promotion, and making a $6.4 million request of state funds that would match $11 million in federal funds for building National Guard armories in Grand Junction, Alamosa and Windsor.

“Like families and businesses in every corner of the state, we have to live within our budget,” Ritter said in a news release Friday.

The governor said the budget balancing proposal “minimizes pain, protects public safety, maintains essential services and preserves programs that promote job creation and economic growth.”

“We’re asking everyone to share in the sacrifice, from schools to businesses to state workers.”

District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland said the district has been preparing for its share of the sacrifice. District officials are going from school to school,  explaining potential cuts and asking for budget-balancing suggestions. A budget committee also is considering solutions.

Suggestions will be used to create a plan that will guide budget decisions based on the priorities of the district.

“Our target is to have that plan to the board before the December holidays,” Kirtland said.


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