State Faces Budget Shortfall This Fiscal Year

· Sep. 21, 2015, 6:10 pm

The Legislature’s budget writers got an update on the state’s fiscal health Monday from two state offices charged with predicting how much money will be available to spend.

One forecast estimates the state’s budget for this fiscal year will be more than $200 million out of balance. A rosier estimate has the state falling about $30 million short. The difference depends on different predictions of much tax revenues will grow next year.

Either way, Colorado state economist Natalie Mullis says lawmakers will have to adjust their spending.

"Those are some tough budget years, in a year when the economy is doing fairly well. So that’s something to keep in mind," she said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper says his office is already looking at ways to either avoid or adjust to the spending cuts.

"It’s an irony that when the state is doing so well – one of the top economies in the country, rapidly growing – that we are in this situation of having to make probably pretty significant cuts in certain areas," he said. 

There are two big reasons that the state’s strong economy actually leaves lawmakers with less money to spend. One is the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which triggers refunds if state revenues grow too fast. The other is a law that requires the state to spend big on transportation in some years.

Sen. Pat Steadman [D-Denver], a budget committee member, is frustrated with those constraints, and the uncertainty they introduce into the budgeting process.
"These hairpin triggers which vary with each quarterly revenue forecast are really no way to run a railroad," said Steadman after Monday's presentation. "We shouldn't have done that to ourselves."
Steadman says he'll try to work with his colleagues next year to at least change the law around transportation funding to make that requirement more predictable, although he acknowledges anything that appears to jeopardize money for roads faces an uphill battle.
For their part, Republicans were quick to point out that the 2009 transportation funding law was the product of a Democratic legislature.
"The spending decisions of prior General Assemblies under Democrat leadership are forcing us to make some difficult budget decisions in the upcoming session," House Minority Leader DelGrosso [R-Loveland] said in a statement. "I hope Democrats recognize how these spending obligations are impacting how much funding we have available for Colorado's schools and transportation needs this year and into the future."
Del Grosso's statement did not say whether or not he would support changing the law.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated which fiscal year faces a shortfall. This fiscal year, which began in July, faces a budget shortfall. 

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