Budget back on track after the great recession

Today, the Senate Democrats moved forward a healthy budget with good news for education, economic development, and public safety.  Colorado is paving the way for the national economic recovery.  During the recession, the general fund sat at about $6.5 billion; now we are on track again with a general fund that is at about $8.6 billion. 

“The legislature has weathered the storm without going into debt, and now we must proceed with caution, compensating for a recession that affected every department in government: education, higher education, health, and transportation.  We have worked hard to present a balanced budget that’s within our means, much like Colorado families do every day,” said Sen. Mary Hodge (D-Brighton), Joint Budget Committee member. 

“We’ve turned a corner and we’re on the path of economic recovery, and the budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 shows it.  We’ve assembled a fiscally responsible budget that begins the process of restoring cuts to public education, shoring up the safety net and investing in our people and our economy.  This budget funds the state government we want and deserve: a government that lives within its means but cares about those in need and invests in our future,” said Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), Joint Budget Committee, chair. 

Below is an outline of the budget highlights:

Education:  Together, funding for K-12 and higher education has gone up more than any other area of the budget.  

“We recognize that students excel in school when they are healthy, safe, and are working toward higher education.  The budget is one part of the education funding process.  The yearly School Finance Act is the other part, and the Senate Democrats are committed to fighting for state of the art education,” said Pres. John Morse. 

The budget increases education funding by $101.1 million. Students need adequate classrooms to learn.  The budget gives an additional $13 million to the BEST program for public school capital construction, and it gives an additional $113.4 million to higher education campus projects. During the recession, higher education was hit hard.  The budget increases higher education operating funds for the first time in four years.  It gives an additional $31 million to public colleges and universities. By 2018, a college degree or certificate will be required for 67% of Colorado’s jobs.  To keep pace, and give everyone access to higher education, the budget provides for $5.3 million in financial aid. Public safety:  The budget takes strides to provide sufficient mental health prevention and treatment to Coloradans, as a means to keep our neighborhoods safe.    

“Time and again throughout the legislative session, we have heard that the key to gun safety in Colorado is investing in mental health services.  The Senate Democrats agree that sufficient mental health services are a necessary part of an overall public safety plan.  That is why the budget provides for substantial funding for improved access to mental health services,” said Pres. John Morse.

The Senate Democrats are working to establish a $19 million crisis response system, so Coloradans with mental health problems don’t necessarily have to call 911 for services.The budget increases school-based behavior health by $1.1 million.The budget invests in mental health facilities with $850,000 going to Pueblo and Ft. Logan.The budget funds an assertive community response system at $4.3 million, helping community mental health centers. Economic development:  The budget will help the economy through programs in construction, tourism, rural Colorado, and the arts. 

The budget funds capital construction and controlled maintenance projects at $194 million.The budget gives the Department of Local Affairs an additional $3 million and one employee to establish a rural economic development program.  The program will help rural areas that rely on one employer, like Fort Lyon. The budget gives an additional $1 million to the Office of Film, Television, and Media to attract film projects to Colorado. The budget gives The Office of Tourism an increase to $15 million, plus an additional $2 million for a state branding initiative.  Tourism is a major economic driver in Colorado, putting $15.9 billion into the economy in 2011 and employing 141,400 Coloradans, according to the Dean Runyan report. Colorado families:  The budget goes a long way to help Colorado families through senior services, developmental disability programs, and child welfare. 

The budget provides an additional $4 million to the Older Coloradans Fund to help with programs like Meals on Wheels. The budget eliminates the waiting period for kids with developmental disabilities for FY 13-14. The budget expands SafeCare, a curriculum based program that focuses prevention efforts on families who have been reported to child protective services and have children who are five and under, by $2.2 million. Our environment:  Colorado is geographically dynamic, and we must protect our environment.    

The budget adds an additional 15 employees to help with oil and gas inspections.The budget adds an additional 15 employees to help with water quality control.The Senate will hear the budget on third-reading tomorrow before it moves onto the House of Representatives.