‘Ugly list’ would reduce Colorado college funding
DENVER, Colorado ” Colorado lawmakers have drawn up an “ugly list” of potential steps to balance their recession-plagued budget, including funding cuts and tuition increases for higher education and one-day furloughs for state employees.
The Associated Press obtained the list Tuesday. The state is looking for $156 million to cut from this year’s budget, which ends June 30, and $786 million from next year’s, which starts July 1.
The “ugly list” could be used in either budget year as the state copes with a sharp decline in tax revenues because of the deep nationwide recession.
It includes $103 million from reducing funding and raising tuition for state colleges and universities and $1.8 million for a one-day furlough.
Budget officials also proposed using $10 million in federal highway funds for the driver’s license program and saving $91 million by suspending homestead exemptions on property taxes owed by the elderly and by disabled veterans.
The list incorporates an additional $14 million from higher education, including $9 million the University of Colorado now gets from the state’s tobacco lawsuit settlement and $5.9 million in need-based aid to graduate students.
The list isn’t expected to cover the full $786 million shortfall in the next budget year. That raises the possibility of even more drastic measures, such as eliminating the state subsidy given to all Colorado college students to help them pay their tuition.
Democratic Sen. Bob Bacon of Fort Collins, whose district includes Colorado State University, said he doesn’t want to ask students to pay more tuition during a recession but also doesn’t want to cut aid to developmentally disabled people or payments to doctors caring for Medicaid patients.
Bacon said he still hopes Colorado’s share of federal stimulus money will help soften the blows of any cuts to higher education.
“Many of us have more questions than answers on how we can hold all of this together in these precarious times,” Bacon said.
Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, said lawmakers have few choices because of the state’s tough tax and spending limits.
“Our hands are tied,” he said.
Sen. Al White, Eagle County’s state senator, said even with the cuts, the state is still in a hole.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the list isn’t final and lawmakers will try to make sure all state agencies share the pain.
“We have a lot of tough choices ahead,” Penry said.
Lawmakers have few options for cuts in the current budget year because only 90 about days are left.
Furloughs would have limited effect. Eliminating a property tax break for seniors could save $91 million, but many have already paid their taxes based on that break.
Other possibilities next year include changing sentencing laws to incarcerate fewer convicts, taking more money out of the state’s reserve fund and reducing the rate the state pays to private prisons for housing its inmates.