Hickenlooper Seeks 5 Percent Spending Boost In His Final Budget Proposal

<p>(Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)</p>
<p>The Colorado state Capitol on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.</p>
Photo: Colorado Capitol Jan 2017 8 | Dome Looking West
The Colorado state Capitol on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.

Gov. John Hickenlooper released his final budget proposal Thursday, calling for a sizable increase in education funding. The new money is enough to freeze tuition at the state's public universities and make a $77 million dent in the $672 million the state owes its K-12 schools for recession-era cuts.

The proposal also would pay down public employee pension fund liabilities and increase the general fund reserve by $90 million, raising it from 7.25 percent to 8 percent of the discretionary budget.

In total, Hickenlooper's budget would increase state spending by nearly 5 percent, to about $31.4 billion over the 2018-19 budget. The general fund, which the legislature has the most control over, would increase $600 million to $13.2 billion.

The proposal "harnesses our strong economic times to make strategic investments in our people and our reserves to protect Colorado's prosperity through the next downturn," Hickenlooper wrote in a letter sent to legislators Thursday.

But by time the budget is actually enacted, it could look significantly different than Hickenlooper's proposal. The legislature will have the final say. And the next governor, whether it's Walker Stapleton or Jared Polis, will have an opportunity to make his own changes after he takes office Jan. 8.

On top of that, statewide ballot initiatives like Proposition 109, which would require the state to sell bonds for transportation projects, and Amendment 73, which would raise taxes for education, could change the final budget too.

"We've done our research to understand the proposals and their budget impacts and so we can be ready to respond," said state budget director Lauren Larson.