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Another budget shortfall looms

Colorado needs to cover another $256 million shortfall in the current 2010-11 state budget, economists told the Joint Budget Committee Monday.

“It would be difficult to balance a shortfall of that size without impacting K-12 or higher education,” state budget director Todd Saliman told Education News Colorado. But, he added, Gov. Bill Ritter will do everything he can to protect education.

Asked when Ritter would release a budget-balancing plan for the $256 million, Saliman said, “We want to do it quickly, [but] I don’t know what our time line is.” The governor’s press office announced later in the day that the balancing plan would be presented “by the end of October.” Saliman’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting also faces a Nov. 1 deadline to submit a 2011-12 budget request to the JBC.

Saliman recently told school district representatives to be careful about spending their federal Edujobs money in case they need to cover further state cuts in the current year. Colorado is receiving about $160 million, allocated to individual districts according to the state school finance formula.

The OSPB and economists from the Legislative Council submitted their quarterly revenue forecasts to JBC members and other lawmakers this morning.

While both groups said the Colorado economy is improving slowly, they forecast continued tight revenues and budget problems at least through 2011-12.

Both forecasts estimated a 2010-11 shortfall in the neighborhood of $250 million, but that figure includes several “ifs,” including whether the state reserve should be set at 2 percent or 4 percent.

Similar variables affect the forecasts for the 2011-12 budget year, which starts next July 1. Natalie Mullis, chief legislative economist, said the state could face a shortfall in the neighborhood of $1 billion. But that also depends on the size of reserve legislators choose, whether lawmakers decide to shift cash funds into the state general fund and other factors.

State budget shortfalls are covered in a variety of ways, including spending cuts, fund transfers, fee increases and other measures.

See the Legislative Council forecast here and the OSPB forecast here.

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