State Budget Forecast is Stronger than Anticipated

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Colorado lawmakers learned today that the state’s economy is stronger than expected and they’ll have more money to spend in next year’s budget. 

For the past few weeks, the grumblings around the state capitol were that the revenue forecast would be lower than anticipated. Instead, it’s $61 million higher.

“Right now you have a lot of flexibility in the budget because revenues are growing,” said Natalie Mullis, the state’s non-partisan chief economist.

She says the recovery has been slow, but it’s picking up.

“2015 is our year; in 2015 we’re going to have a full mature economic expansion.”

The improved forecast will leave lawmakers with $75 million extra in the general fund budget that pays for roads, schools and prisons. Representative Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen) sits on the joint budget committee. She says it won’t make a big impact.

“We’re essentially flat, and normally in a regular legislative year that wouldn’t be an issue,” said Gerou.

But this year the dynamics are different because dozens of Democratic measures are waiting to be funded.

“We’re going into an election year, and the Democrats in the majority, about half of the bills they have out there waiting will be killed because we just don’t have the money.”   

“People went kind of hog wild on introducing bills with big fiscal notes this year and we’ll have to figure out how to prioritize once we get the budget set,” said joint budget committee vice-chairman senator Pat Steadman (D-Denver).

Democrats will debate whether to put the extra money into K through 12 schools or disaster recovery, among other areas. Lawmakers were hoping for an even higher forecast.

“We’ve not been able to spend for a long time and suddenly it looked like the opportunity was there to do some things you’d been wanting to do,” said senate budget committee member Mary Hodge (D-Brighton).

The Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting says Colorado’s economy is one of the best in the nation. But growth around the state remains uneven. The house will take up the budget next week.