Colorado to face $250M budget gap |

Colorado to face $250M budget gap

Associated Press Writers
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado – Colorado is facing a $250 million budget gap for the fiscal year that ends next week and the shortfall could reach $838 million over the next three years, legislative economists said Monday.

Gov. Bill Ritter said state agencies would hold the line on spending, hiring and travel, but that more “tough choices” would have to be made for cuts to the budget that lawmakers have already approved for the new fiscal year.

Lawmakers said college tuition and state park entrance fees could rise and funding for kindergarten through 12th grade education could be cut as they and Ritter discuss how to close the gap. Ritter declined to give specifics, saying he wanted to talk to state lawmakers who oversee the budget first.

State officials said they plan to borrow money from next year’s budget to pay the remaining bills for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Lawmakers said they’ll be forced to cut a total of $384 million over the next year to cover the deficit and the shortfall that will accrue in the next year’s budget.

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Lawmakers have already closed one prison and delayed the opening of another, eliminated a $91 million property tax break for senior citizens, taxed cigarette sales and cut funding to health clinics that serve the uninsured.

Ritter had said he also planned to furlough state workers for at least four days a year. He did not announce when those would begin.

Before adjourning, lawmakers gave Ritter the flexibility to balance this year’s budget by drawing down the state’s reserve fund and taking money from other accounts. That money would have to be returned after the new fiscal year starts July 1.

Ritter said he hoped to rely only on the temporary transfers to balance the budget, leaving the $138 million in the reserve fund alone.

“We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again,” he said of balancing the budget.

Democratic state Sen. Moe Keller, of Wheat Ridge, the chair of the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, said possibilities include asking Ritter to make additional cuts in each department or asking lawmakers to make cuts in the 2009-2010 budget year when they return in January.

“We’re not going to need a special session because we took care of this when the Legislature was in session,” Keller said.

In their March forecast, budget analysts warned the shortfall would be about $208 million. They blamed a sharp drop in corporate and personal income tax revenues for the bigger-than-expected gap. Lawmakers were expecting bad news, but some said they were still shocked.

“I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I am,” said state Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo.

A report in April by the National Conference of State Legislatures found at least 43 states were projecting deficits totaling more than $121 billion next year. California is facing a $24.3 billion deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The state’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, implemented two-day-a-month furloughs in February that dropped workers’ pay by 9.3 percent.

Arizona is facing a $4 billion budget gap, while Connecticut may fall as much as $8.7 billion short over the next two fiscal years. Other states struggling with shortfalls range from $70 million in Rhode Island to $3.2 billion in Ohio.

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