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Gov. Polis’ budget proposal emphasizes preparedness for economic hardship

Record reserve funds put Colorado in a safe spot, per senior budgeting official
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ administration says the budget proposal for the 2023-24 fiscal year was formed to protect the state from economic uncertainty while promoting the governor’s agenda. (Pema Baldwin/ Colorado Newsline)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ budget proposal for the 2023-24 fiscal year was designed to keep Colorado prepared for a financial rainy day with record high reserves while also investing in the state’s future, supporting thriving local communities and protecting the climate and clean air, his administration says.

A senior staff member with the governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting said this budget proposal is focused on making the state more affordable, safer and cleaner. The governor’s proposal asks for $46 billion in spending, requesting $16.7 billion from the general fund and saving 15% in reserve.

“We are focused on making investments with high expected returns, restraining operating growth to 7% – which is below inflation – and holding the General Fund reserve at a historic high of 15%, as is necessary and prudent during these uncertain economic times,” Polis said in his letter to the Colorado Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.

The majority of the state’s annual funding is divided into six major categories: health care, K-12 education, higher education, human services, corrections and judicial. Polis also outlines key budget priorities for public safety and reducing crime, conserving the climate and natural resources, creating more housing opportunities and lowering costs in general. He said in the letter that his budget proposal demonstrates “three key principles of fiscal responsibility: balancing spending with saving, making investments with high expected return, and prioritizing requests that are tied to evidence.”

“We are advancing good government by tying our budget to evidence of what works and evaluating equity gaps to ensure a Colorado for All,” Polis’ letter reads.

Departmental heads continued briefing the Joint Budget Committee on their requests last week, with state economic recovery officer Pat Meyers emphasizing the ongoing impact of billions in federal pandemic relief and infrastructure funding, and the state’s plans to ensure the funds are distributed fairly across all parts of Colorado.

Since he was reelected to a second term as governor, state law allows Polis to submit a package of supplemental budget amendments on Jan. 2, informed by the December financial forecast. The budgeting staff member said they feel good about what the governor’s office has planned, but recession risk is still high, which means they need to be flexible and prepared for anything. This is part of why having a record high amount of reserve funds is crucial, they said, because this puts Colorado in a good position to handle any financial crisis without reducing services.

The governor’s office heard from teachers urging a stronger commitment to improved compensation and classroom funding, leading to this budget proposal’s record investment in education. This includes pairing last year’s additional $12,000 per classroom commitment with a newly added $19,000 per classroom commitment on top, good for a 9% increase in funding per classroom. The budget stabilization factor would be just 3% under Polis’ proposal, meaning a smaller gap in education funding.

The budget also addresses requests from law enforcement for additional resources to recruit and retain officers, including new resources for local law enforcement on top of expanded state investigative capacity. The budget proposes $42.1 million in public safety investments, including $12.6 million for auto theft prevention, $11.9 million for supporting local crime prevention strategies, $7.3 million for state patrol recruitment and retention and $5.9 million for reducing recidivism.

Another key investment Polis has in his proposal that looks different from last year is more aerial resources, including air tankers and helicopters to be prepared for fighting large fires following record breaking fires in Colorado’s recent history, according to the senior staff member. The budget includes $38.3 million for wildfire mitigation, suppression and recovery, adding funding for local fire districts, public education, landscape mitigation, workforce, fire investigators and statewide data alongside the aerial resources.

The Joint Budget Committee will work with Polis’ proposal as a starting point as it works through finalizing the 2023-24 budget ahead of July, when the next fiscal year begins.

To read more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.