Joint Budget Committee

Members of the Colorado legislature's Joint Budget Committee are, top row from left, Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo (chair), Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City (vice chair), Rep. Kim Ransom of Douglas County, Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, Rep. Julie McCluskie of Dillon and Sen. Ranchel Zenzinger of Arvada.

The Colorado House Democrat and Republican caucuses broke into separate meetings Thursday morning to review the 2020-21 budget and 40 bills designed to change state law and help balance the budget.

As part of that process, the Joint Budget Committee produced a narrative showing just how much each department got cut, or in some cases, didn't.

The JBC document shows that the General Fund forecast reached a high point of $13.475 billion in December 2019, but it was all downhill from there.

As of May 12, the general fund estimate had dropped to $10.306 billion, a drop of 23.6%, based on estimates from the economists of Legislative Council.

The economists with the governor's Office of State Planning and Budgeting estimated the high point in September 2019 at $13.617 billion, and in May at $10.755 billion, meaning a drop of 21%.

Not every department saw its budget cut. Agriculture, for example, is slated for a modest increase of just over $500,000. That's largely due to the fact that the department is almost entirely cash-funded, and receives very little general fund. 

Education, which received 36% of the state's general fund dollars in 2019-20, took one of the biggest hits: officially at $583.2 million, or a 9.4% reduction from its 2019-20 appropriation.

It's not yet been decided whether that cut will be added to the budget stabilization factor, the debt to K-12 that reached a high of $1.15 billion a decade ago. Should that cut be added to the debt, it would push the debt to $1.155 billion.

The biggest increase in the budget, both in percentage and by actual dollar amount, went to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which handles Medicaid. Its budget was increased by 11.2%, which is $1.2 billion more than in 2019-20. Of that increase, $202 million is in general fund support. ***

The largest cut of all went to the state's public colleges and universities, which will receive $1.34 billion less in 2019-20, or about 27.5%. 

Also of note: the Department of State budget is 22.1% less than in 2019-20, but the department's entire general fund support, about $8.5 million, was completely eliminated. The department relies heavily on fees to support its operations, but under this budget will be 100% dependent on those fees.

On top of the agency cuts, the JBC also decided to suspend an annual payment to the Public Employees Retirement Association, for a total general fund reduction of $273.8 million. 

One issue the JBC didn't touch: furloughs for state employees. In response to a question from Rep. Tony Exum of Colorado Springs, JBC Chair Daneya Esgar of Pueblo said the JBC doesn't make decisions on furloughs. However, the committee decided to cut the personal services line, which funds salary as well as life, health and dental plans for state employees, by 5%. It will be up to each department to decide on furloughs, Esgar said. Some may be able to absorb those cuts through vacancy savings, she said.

Furloughs have already been implemented for city employees in Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield and Denver, as well as for campus employees at CU-Boulder and CU-Denver.

One bill that is still in the works: the appropriation for the General Assembly. The Senate gave that measure preliminary approval Thursday morning. The appropriation, at $53 million, will eventually be reduced by about $2 million less than in 2019-20. 

Why that matters: funding for the General Assembly includes money for legislative interim committees on issues such as water, wildfires, early childhood education, opioid treatment, mental health disorders and transportation. Those committees produce dozens of bills every year for new programs and for changes in state laws. 

But Speaker of the House KC Becker told Colorado Politics Thursday that those interim committees will be suspended this year. It's not the first time; in the last recession, interim committees were put on hold then, too.

An April 7 memo from Legislative Council staff noted that the ten interim committees set in statute are budgeted for $56,628 per member, and that savings could be realized by reducing the number of days those committees meet. That would also save money on travel for both the committee members and the legislative staff who serve those committees.

One interim committee that may meet outside of the funding issue: school finance. An interim committee chaired in the past by Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, has been working on a new school finance formula for several years. They had a draft proposal ready to go for this session, McCluskie said Thursday, but that won't be introduced due to the pandemic. She said they may still continue to work on it. 

Correction: an earlier version said the department of health care policy and financing had been cut $1.2 billion. Its budget was increased by that amount.

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