Lawmakers completed their single most important piece of annual business today, when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a balanced and on-time budget bill that manages to give Coloradans the tax refunds Republicans promised them while adequately funding core government services like education, healthcare and infrastructure.
Republican leaders gave much of the credit for achieving that balancing act to lawmakers serving on the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee, which was masterfully led by Chairman Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs). Writing a budget requires countless hours spent in numerous hearings held throughout the year. JBC members won praise not just for their hard work, but also for their ability to put partisanship aside in the interest of reasonableness and efficiency.
"The priorities for Senate Republicans were to adequately fund core government services, use the budget process to improve oversight and accountability, and to get taxpayers the refunds they’re owed under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights," said Senate President Bill Cadman after the signing. "I count it as a tremendous success that we were able to accomplish all three while controlling just one chamber of the Statehouse."
JBC Chairman Senator Lambert was quick to share credit for the budget’s success with other members of the committee. “Writing a budget like this one requires a willingness to cooperate and keep an open mind that one doesn’t always find in partisan politics,” said Lambert. “I think the example of cooperation set by committee members helped reduce unnecessary conflict as we worked toward a budget that’s reasonable, responsible, and delivered on time.”
Key 2015/16 budget highlights include:
-- Total gross general fund revenues - the largest in state history: $10.25 billion;
-- General Fund revenue growth of 6.2% in FY15/16;
-- TABOR refunds of $69.7 million in FY14/15 and $116.8 million in FY15/16;
-- Total transfers to State Education Fund of $563.3 million;
-- Year-over-year general fund increase to K-12 education is $209 million, a 3.3% hike;
-- A $25 million payment to the state’s school districts, reducing the “negative factor”;
-- Year-over-year General Fund increase to higher education of $95 million;
-- The Department of Higher Education received an overall 11% increase in funding over last year;
-- All higher education institutions will receive a minimum 10% increase over last year;
-- Increased state salaries by 1% and merit pay by 1%;
-- Increased non-Health Service Premium provider rates by 1.7% (The Governor’s request was 1%);
-- $397 million total funds for construction projects, including almost $120 million for IT projects and $105 million for transportation projects.
JBC members won’t be able to savor the moment for long. The group begins hearings in preparation for the fiscal 2016/17 budget in just a few months.