With less than a week to go before election day, Governor John Hickenlooper admits he’s nervous that a very close vote could make Colorado the next Florida. But for now, the state's chief executive has something to take his mind off electoral worries: his budget proposal, released Thursday. State revenues are expected to grow by about 2.4% next fiscal year, which means there's an extra $191 million to allocate, plus the state banked nearly that much in surplus this year. So the question is: what to do with the increase?
The governor sat down with host Ryan Warner at the state Capitol for our regular conversation.
Highlights of the Governor's budget proposal:
-- Total budget = $21.9 billion, up 5.4% from fiscal year 2012-13. General Fund = $8.1 billion, up 5% from FY12-13.
-- When accounting for inflation and population growth, the state budget is still $1.1 billion (14.4%) below pre-recession levels.
-- The governor is proposing a 4.8% increase in education funding, which breaks down to about an $185-per-student increase.
-- State employees would get a raise in this budget of 1.5% across the board, with funding for optional merit increases of another 1.5%.
-- Hickenlooper wants to increase funding to extend services to 809 developmentally disabled people currently on state waitlists, and to fund recommendations of the Elder Abuse Task Force.
-- Under economic development, the budget includes $2 million for tourism promotion and to develop a 'unified brand' for the state.
-- Hickenlooper wants to increase funding to an array of mental health care services by $17.1 million.
-- The budget would set aside 5% of next year's state revenues in a reserve fund.
Colorado's state employees union calls the budget proposal a "solid first step" after several years of pay cuts and wage freezes.
In a statement, House Speaker Frank McNulty said his office is still reviewing the governor's budget proposal, but warned, "We certainly hope that the spending in Gov. Hickenlooper’s proposed budget is not a return to the tax-and-spend agenda that moved us closer to bankrupting our state during the Ritter recession."
[Photo: Office of Governor Hickenlooper]