Education, tax refunds top Gov. Hickenlooper’s budget plan

Photo: Colorado state Capitol building Sept 2014 d
Colorado's capitol in downtown Denver.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing a major boost to education spending in his budget for next fiscal year. In all, state spending is projected to increase by $1.3 billion.

State law requires the governor to release his budget proposal on Nov. 1 or the first business day after that.

Rising state revenues have led the governor to propose numerous budget increases, from $102.6 million for transportation projects, to 130 new child welfare caseworkers.

"The economic performance that we have right now shows that we can address almost all the most important priorities that people expect from state government with this budget," said Henry Sobanet, director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, during a media briefing on the proposal.

In the plan for next fiscal year, K-12 education funding would increase by $480.3 million, a 8.1 percent boost. But Sobanet says that much of that money is coming from a state savings account and school districts are being warned to only spend it on one-time needs.

"Some will buy equipment, some will do training, some will rebuild reserves," says Sobinet.

The governor’s budget increases higher education funding by 14 percent, with the money split between financial aid for students and lump sums for individual schools.

Because Colorado’s economy is improving, the state is also making plans to send $136.6 million in tax rebates back to residents next fiscal year.

Additionally, the state may have to refund taxpayers all of the marijuana tax revenue voters approved last year, to the tune of $30.5 million. That's because the state is projected to bring in more overall money than forecast in the 2013 official state voter's guide and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights requires a refund in this situation.

The tax was intended to fund marijuana enforcement and school construction, things that will now have to go unfunded or be paid for from general tax revenues. It would take lawmakers referring another measure to next year's ballot for the state to be allowed to keep the money.

"This is a conversation we need to have with the legislature," said Sobanet. "We've had some initial discussions with people and I think the roughly 2-to-1 vote to tax marijuana is on people's minds.

If Hickenlooper does not win reelection Tuesday night, his opponent, Bob Beauprez, will be able to amend the proposed budget. However, it's the state legislature's budget committee that has most of the control over what eventually ends up in the spending plan.