Ritter’s Colorado budget calls for rainy-day fund | VailDaily.com

Ritter’s Colorado budget calls for rainy-day fund

Ed Sealover
Rocky Mountain News
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” Gov. Bill Ritter released what he termed a cautious budget proposal Sunday, slashing transportation funding and creating an unprecedented reserve account.

Ritter’s $19.2 billion plan for the fiscal year beginning in July 2009 would set aside $77 million in a reserve fund that could be put to critical services if tax revenues drop below expected levels.

The General Assembly has debated the idea of creating such a rainy-day fund for 15 years but has never found agreement on how to do it.

The 5 percent general-fund increase over this year’s budget included in the proposal is less than the 6 percent allowable by law.

The second-year Democratic governor proposes to cut transportation funding by $428 million next year, a 33 percent reduction from this year’s spending. Federal road funds are being reduced, and state road revenues are expected to come in way below this year’s total.

Ritter did propose putting new money toward education, prison- building and developmental-disability services.

He asked the Joint Budget Committee to dedicate $11.4 million to a new Child Welfare Training Academy and $200,000 to begin planning a residential-care center for combat veterans.

“While this in fact is a conservative budget, it also makes key investments in our economy and our future,” Ritter said. He submitted the budget Saturday, at the statutory deadline.

The budget unveiling comes a little over a month after he instituted a hiring freeze and a construction moratorium. On Sunday he said he was confident the economy would grow enough to end both of those come July.

To that end, Ritter proposed hiring 908 new, full-time employees, 515 of whom are slotted to work for the Department of Corrections, many at a prison scheduled to open in Fremont County.

Staffing the offices of new judges and adding workers to handle an increased Medicaid caseload are other priorities, Ritter said.

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, assailed Ritter for not cutting back more on hiring and on programs he has started since taking office.

One year after a panel recommended multiple ways to improve health care, Ritter proposes no new programs and would increase spending only to meet the growing Medicaid caseload.

Road-building and repairs would take a big hit despite another panel appointed by Ritter having recommended that he increase the annual budget for that area by $1.5 billion.

The governor said this should heighten public awareness of what is now called a “quiet crisis” and may spur the legislature to come up with new transportation-funding methods.

If the $77 million put into the reserve account is not used by June 2010, Ritter proposed to put $30 million of it toward critical bridge repairs, $7 million to job creation and $40 million to a permanent rainy-day fund. The reserve account drew bipartisan praise.

Ritter set aside another $5 million to go immediately to job creation in the form of incentives for companies to locate here and tax credits for hiring workers.

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