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State finds another $75 million

The Joint Budget Committee went back to work Tuesday trying to finish a balanced 2011-12 state budget bill, a process that’s been delayed by partisan differences over fiscal policy. Those differences that loom large this year because party control of the houses is split, and the JBC has three Democrats and three Republicans.

The committee got one piece of good news – that the executive branch Office of State Planning and Budgeting had underestimated state revenues this year by $75.5 million. That’s of note because the JBC is using the OSPB forecast in its effort, rather than the more optimistic forecast made recently by the Legislative Council staff.

JBC staff director John Ziegler mentioned the $75.5 million to the committee shortly after it started a three-hour meeting, but the news didn’t prompt any comments by members. (Henry Sobanet, director of OSPB, told The Denver Post that the “extra” money could be used to reduce proposed cuts to K-12 support and for the state’s reserve.)

Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed cutting school support by $332 million next year. Democrats and some Republicans are pushing hard to reduce that number, but where it will end up is anybody’s guess. Lots of other factors are in play in the budget debate, including pension contributions, the size of the state reserve, use of cash funds to shore up the general fund, whether to reinstate a fee paid to retailers for collecting sales taxes and possible creation of a rainy day fund. Committee discussion Tuesday indicated that some Republicans also would like to squeeze more money out of the Medicaid program.

Before the $75.5 million adjustment, the JBC has worked on the assumption it needed to cover a $453 million gap to balance next year’s budget.

The committee Tuesday approved several cuts – mostly small – to a variety of agencies, including the Department of Corrections and some health programs.

Only two education-related programs were discussed.

The committee voted to cut the cash fund revenue of the Department of Higher Education by 15 percent, somewhat more than $300,000. (The state allocates money to individual colleges and universities, each of which pay some funds back to the department to fund some of its operations.)

The JBC also discussed diverting about $36 million of state school lands revenues away from the lands trust fund and into school spending but delayed a decision on that issue. The diversion is being done in the current budget year.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, told reporters earlier Tuesday, “There are a variety of things that are in play right now” on the budget. “Everything’s still on the table.” Shaffer added he’s “hopefully optimistic that we’ll have something in the next day or two.”

The committee resumes work on the budget Wednesday.

Recess bill tweaked

A House-Senate conference committee took only a few minutes Tuesday morning to agree on changes to House Bill 11-1069, the measure that would require minimum amounts of physical activity – loosely defined – in elementary schools

The panel voted 5-0 to remove a paragraph from the legislative declaration (which has no force of law) that said increasing the opportunity for physical activity may decrease the likelihood that boys will be erroneously identified as needing special education services.

The paragraph was added in the Senate at the urging of Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, who has a longstanding concern about misclassification of boys as needing special ed services. Some House members objected when the bill came back from the Senate, creating the need for a conference committee.

For the record

The Senate Tuesday gave final approval to three education-related bills:

  • House Bill 11-1169, expanding the sharing of threat and safety information by campus police with college administrators, passed 26-8.
  • House Bill 11-1155, authorizing Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia to also serve as director of the Department of Higher Education, passed 34-0.
  • Senate Bill 11-070, urging greater coordination between high school and college administrators on services for special-needs college students, passed 33-1.

The Senate also voted 34-0 to confirm Richard Truly and Frances Vallejo as Colorado School of Mines trustees.

Hickenlooper Tuesday signed Senate Bill 11-040, the Jake Snakenberg Youth Concussion Act.

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