Colorado may have to cut another $240 million
Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) - Colorado lawmakers warned Monday that sta
DENVER – Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter promised Monday to move quickly to make more cuts to the state budget after analysts said revenues have fallen more than expected.
Ritter said he will ask state agencies to recommend even deeper cuts than the $318 million he previously ordered.
Analysts said the state will have to cut another $240 million from the budget for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.
The state has already cut $1.8 billion and reduced spending by 10.4 percent, Ritter said, promising to try to be thoughtful and compassionate with the new round of cutbacks.
“But we need to be realistic. Every cut we make will cause some pain. Every cut we make will hurt,” he said.
Colorado lawmakers warned that state government might have to raise fees and taxes and eliminate some tax breaks unless revenues improve dramatically.
They also said the $99 million homestead exemption for seniors will probably be suspended again, higher education will face more cuts, and state workers will be forced to take more furlough days.
The state is already closing hospitals and offering early parole to inmates as part of the previous cuts ordered by Ritter.
“We are in a place where every cut is a bad one,” said Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, who chairs the Joint Budget Committee that sets state spending priorities.
Analysts said general fund revenue is expected to increase 6.4 percent in the next fiscal year beginning July 1, as the wobbly economy slowly recovers. But without a permanent fix, they warned lawmakers may have to cut another $1.3 billion from next year’s budget.
Consumers are spending less, commercial real estate values are down, and more people are out of work because of the recession, budget analysts told the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.
The governor has no plans to reverse budget cuts that he enacted this summer with an executive order, and more cuts will be made next year, state budget director Todd Saliman told lawmakers.
“Unfortunately, the tough choices we’ve been faced with are not over,” he said.
Ritter came under fire after he announced cuts to services for the mentally ill, disabled and people without health insurance to help balance the state budget.
Lawmakers cut about $812 million in spending before they adjourned, so Ritter had to make more cuts as state revenue continued to fall. He cut a total of $318 million, including 300 jobs, after going through the budget line by line.
Critics said the state should consider reversing some of the $1.8 billion in sales tax exemptions and other tax credits instead of cutting health care.
But Ritter said getting rid of one of the biggest tax exemptions – $583 million a year for manufacturers – would hurt Colorado businesses, make it harder to attract new ones and prolong the recession.
House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said the latest figures should serve as a “stark reminder that Colorado, along with the rest of the nation, is experiencing the continued effects of a troubled economy.”
Natalie Mullis, the Legislature’s chief economist, said she doesn’t expect any significant job gains for at least another year.