DENVER — State senators are scheduled today to start reviewing the $15.2 billion spending package the Legislature’s budget writers have recommended for the 2005-06 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
That package, unveiled Monday, is to be scrutinized during separate Senate Democratic and Republican caucus meetings today in preparation for debates by the full Senate that could begin Wednesday.
It includes about $14.9 billion to operate state government and more than $300 million in capital construction money for non-highway construction projects and land purchases. The state’s current $14.4 billion budget for 2004-05 includes more than $14 billion for operating expenses and more than $343 million for capital construction.
The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee has proposed “a quite austere budget,” said Greeley Republican Sen. Dave Owen, a member of that panel.
The committee couldn’t find the money that some organizations had sought for new or significantly expanded state programs and services in 2005-06, several of its members said Monday in interviews.
“I think we really did keep a lid on new spending,” said JBC Chairman Abel Tapia, a Democratic senator from Pueblo.
Tapia said much of the additional spending that was built into the budget proposal was “case-load driven” and reflects projected increases in prison populations, recipients of government-subsidized health-care services, and enrollment growths in public schools and colleges.
The JBC was able to restore some of the budget cuts made the past three years, in the midst of a national recession that slashed state revenues.
Owen said some of those pre-recession funding levels were restored to programs for aid to the needy, disabled and drug and alcohol abuse treatment, for example.
Moreover, “compared to the last two or three years we haven’t had to make any cuts” in the programs the JBC has recommended for funding in 2005-06, said Owen, a 14-year veteran of the budget committee.
But Greeley Republican Rep. Dale Hall, who’s in his first year on the panel, warned that the JBC was able to present a balanced-budget package for 2005-06 by using “dollars that won’t be available next year” for the state’s 2006-07 budget.
The alternative to using those one-time-only balancing techniques, though, would have been “making $200 million in cuts” from the 2005-06 package, Hall said.
Tapia, also in his first year on the committee, said 2005-06 will not be the year to fund new programs.
He said the JBC’s recommendations should demonstrate to Coloradans that “we’re trying to be fiscally responsible and show the people we can live within our means.”
The $15.2 billion spending package the JBC proposed for 2005-06 does not count on voters approving a ballot question next November that would allow the state to keep and spend a projected $3.1 billion it otherwise would have to refund over the coming five years.
If voters adopt that measure, state government could spend an additional $393.8 million of the money it expects to collect in 2005-06. That amount is not built into the JBC’s appropriations recommendations for the coming fiscal year.