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Hickenlooper's budget plan takes the axe to education | Schools

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Hickenlooper's budget plan takes the axe to education
Schools
Hickenlooper's budget plan takes the axe to education

Talking about the importance of state government "living within our means at a difficult time", Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday delivered a budget proposal for the coming year that includes $570 million in new cuts.

Those cuts are on top of those proposed by former Gov. Bill Ritter last November.

The budget for K-12 education in the 2011-12 fiscal year that begins July 1 is being cut by an additional $375 million, or $497 per student.

"Make no mistake, the choices we are making today will hurt," Hickenlooper said. "This budget proposal is about tough choices and sustainability. Frankly, it is about living within our means at a difficult time."

Hickenlooper is also proposing an additional $36 million cut to higher education, reducing 263 full-time state employee positions, closing a state drug treatment facility and the Ft. Lyon Correctional Facility and re-purposing four state parks.

With this budget, Hickenlooper is also beginning a two-year plan to address the state's structural deficit by building up the state's reserve to four percent of Colorado's overall general fund.

Right now, the reserve is hovering around two percent.

"We've used our savings account to pay our current expenses, and the savings account is all gone," said Hickenlooper's budget director, Henry Sobanet.

Building back up the state's reserve will drive an additional $141.5 million in cuts. That component of Hickenlooper's proposal, along with the choice to balance to a more conservative revenue forecast and the loss of federal stimulus money that's helped offset cuts for the past two years, has resulted in far more drastic cuts than Ritter proposed three months ago.

"This proposal makes major changes to Gov. Ritter's budget," Sobanet said. "It calls for major reductions. The system we have now, ultimately, isn't sustainable and needed changing."

The budget also includes another 0.5 percent cut to the Medicaid provider reimbursement rate, which brings the total of such cuts since fiscal year 2009-10 to six percent. In spite of that, Hickenlooper's office has tried to preserve the safety net for the "last and least"; but with revenues stagnant and Medicaid caseloads continuing to grow, larger cuts to social services may be unavoidable in the budget for fiscal year 2012-13.

"When you're dealing with these bitter choices between education and health care, between water projects and public safety, each of these makes almost inhuman demands," Hickenlooper said.

Teachers concerned about layoffs

For FY 2011-12, it's going to be public education taking the biggest hit -- bigger than the $266 million cut it took this fiscal year.

"We recognize Colorado's fiscal crisis, but we can't balance our budget on the backs of educators and students and expect our state to stay competitive," said Brenda Smith, President of the AFT Colorado. "Teachers are doing their part with fewer resources in larger classes, but at some point Coloradans will have to decide if education is really our priority."

While the state workforce is only being reduced by 263 positions, the majority of which are at the Ft. Lyon facility that's being closed, thousands of teachers and other school staffers will no doubt be let go as a result of the massive cuts to schools.

It's also possible that some districts will decide to close some schools altogether in order to absorb the state's cuts.

"This is just plain wrong," said Beverly Ingle, President of the Colorado Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state.

GOP lauds proposal, Democrats concerned

While stopping short of criticizing Hickenlooper directly, some Democrats voiced concerns about the impact of such deep cuts to education and pushed lightly to re-start a larger conversation about the state's need to raise revenue in order to mitigate chronic cuts.

"These newest proposed cuts will have a lasting impact on our ability to maintain the quality of life and values we expect, appreciate and uphold as Coloradans," said House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo. "Now is the time to look for all possible solutions to our serious budgetary problems."

Republicans, meanwhile, lauded the Democratic governor for taking the kind of conservative approach they've been advocating for years.

"We have said that these challenging economic times call for bold leadership and an ability to make the same tough decisions that Colorado families and employers have been making," said House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.

"We appreciate the Governor's willingness to tackle the state budget in a way that begins to address the long-term structural issues and we look forward to working with him on specifics."

Tourism spending still a priority

One area where Hickenlooper is preserving funding is tourism, where the state plans to spend $13 million in FY 2011-12 to promote Colorado as a vacation and convention destination in order to generate additional revenue for the state.

"We didn't want to cut that," Sobanet said. "The governor equates that to eating your seed corn. Tourism is a key to economic development."

State employees will also absorb some of the budget-balancing measures. They'll be paying more into their PERA retirement plans, compensating for smaller state contributions for a second straight year; and the state is reducing the mileage reimbursement rate for employees using their own vehicles.

Talking about the importance of state government "living within our means at a difficult time", Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday delivered a budget proposal for the coming year that includes $570 million in new cuts.

Those cuts are on top of those proposed by former Gov. Bill Ritter last November.

The budget for K-12 education in the 2011-12 fiscal year that begins July 1 is being cut by an additional $375 million, or $497 per student.

"Make no mistake, the choices we are making today will hurt," Hickenlooper said. "This budget proposal is about tough choices and sustainability. Frankly, it is about living within our means at a difficult time."

Hickenlooper is also proposing an additional $36 million cut to higher education, reducing 263 full-time state employee positions, closing a state drug treatment facility and the Ft. Lyon Correctional Facility and re-purposing four state parks.

With this budget, Hickenlooper is also beginning a two-year plan to address the state's structural deficit by building up the state's reserve to four percent of Colorado's overall general fund.

Right now, the reserve is hovering around two percent.

"We've used our savings account to pay our current expenses, and the savings account is all gone," said Hickenlooper's budget director, Henry Sobanet.

Building back up the state's reserve will drive an additional $141.5 million in cuts. That component of Hickenlooper's proposal, along with the choice to balance to a more conservative revenue forecast and the loss of federal stimulus money that's helped offset cuts for the past two years, has resulted in far more drastic cuts than Ritter proposed three months ago.

"This proposal makes major changes to Gov. Ritter's budget," Sobanet said. "It calls for major reductions. The system we have now, ultimately, isn't sustainable and needed changing."

The budget also includes another 0.5 percent cut to the Medicaid provider reimbursement rate, which brings the total of such cuts since fiscal year 2009-10 to six percent. In spite of that, Hickenlooper's office has tried to preserve the safety net for the "last and least"; but with revenues stagnant and Medicaid caseloads continuing to grow, larger cuts to social services may be unavoidable in the budget for fiscal year 2012-13.

"When you're dealing with these bitter choices between education and health care, between water projects and public safety, each of these makes almost inhuman demands," Hickenlooper said.

Teachers concerned about layoffs

For FY 2011-12, it's going to be public education taking the biggest hit -- bigger than the $266 million cut it took this fiscal year.

"We recognize Colorado's fiscal crisis, but we can't balance our budget on the backs of educators and students and expect our state to stay competitive," said Brenda Smith, President of the AFT Colorado. "Teachers are doing their part with fewer resources in larger classes, but at some point Coloradans will have to decide if education is really our priority."

While the state workforce is only being reduced by 263 positions, the majority of which are at the Ft. Lyon facility that's being closed, thousands of teachers and other school staffers will no doubt be let go as a result of the massive cuts to schools.

It's also possible that some districts will decide to close some schools altogether in order to absorb the state's cuts.

"This is just plain wrong," said Beverly Ingle, President of the Colorado Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state.

GOP lauds proposal, Democrats concerned

While stopping short of criticizing Hickenlooper directly, some Democrats voiced concerns about the impact of such deep cuts to education and pushed lightly to re-start a larger conversation about the state's need to raise revenue in order to mitigate chronic cuts.

"These newest proposed cuts will have a lasting impact on our ability to maintain the quality of life and values we expect, appreciate and uphold as Coloradans," said House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo. "Now is the time to look for all possible solutions to our serious budgetary problems."

Republicans, meanwhile, lauded the Democratic governor for taking the kind of conservative approach they've been advocating for years.

"We have said that these challenging economic times call for bold leadership and an ability to make the same tough decisions that Colorado families and employers have been making," said House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.

"We appreciate the Governor's willingness to tackle the state budget in a way that begins to address the long-term structural issues and we look forward to working with him on specifics."

Tourism spending still a priority

One area where Hickenlooper is preserving funding is tourism, where the state plans to spend $13 million in FY 2011-12 to promote Colorado as a vacation and convention destination in order to generate additional revenue for the state.

"We didn't want to cut that," Sobanet said. "The governor equates that to eating your seed corn. Tourism is a key to economic development."

State employees will also absorb some of the budget-balancing measures. They'll be paying more into their PERA retirement plans, compensating for smaller state contributions for a second straight year; and the state is reducing the mileage reimbursement rate for employees using their own vehicles.

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