Rep. Daneya Esgar

Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, who chairs the legislature's Joint Budget Committee, talks about Colorado's spending plan that takes effect July 1 during a bill signing ceremony at Boettcher Mansion in Denver on Monday, June 22, 2020.

The budget Gov. Jared Polis signed under the bright summer sun on Monday at lunchtime was nothing like the spending plan he could have envisioned when his second legislative session began in January.

The General Assembly delivered him a budget that is $3.3 billion lighter than last year's, because of the economic devastation delivered by the COVID-19 crisis that arrived in March, halting the session in March and resuming in late May to amend the governor's best laid plans.

"We went from a budget surplus to a budget shortfall practically overnight," Polis said Monday, adding that unlike the federal government, Colorado is required by its constitution to adopt a balanced budget every year.

He called Democratic Rep. Daneya Esgar, who chairs the legislature's Joint Budget Committee, which prepares the plan each year, "the pride of Pueblo."

Esgar called it "not a budget any of us love, but I think it's a budget we can all be proud of."

She spoke of the challenges of stripping away almost a quarter of the state's operating budget.

"We did that without stripping away access to health care," Esgar said. "We did that in every way we possibly could to make sure we didn't harm people in Colorado. We wanted to make sure Coloradans stayed safe. We wanted to make sure Coloradans stayed paid. We wanted to make sure small businesses would be able to recover.

"We worked very hard in this budget to make sure Coloradans came first and the cuts came second."

She added, "It may not have been fun. It may not have been easy, but I guarantee you it was heartfelt, it was thoughtful and we had an amazing team that pulled it through in the end and got it done."

K-12 education took a $621.4 million cut this year, while higher education took a $493.2 million cut, as well as a $5 million slash for merit-based student aid. Spending on state employees took a 5% cut, which could mean lost jobs, furloughs or other intermediate cutbacks until things improve.

The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which handles Medicaid, saw its funding increased by 11.2% to aid a state populated with residents in crisis.

The state has been able to supplement some of its losses with federal relief money, and Polis and lawmakers are calling for more help from Washington to stave off more cuts next year.

Bob Mook: "Considering the daunting budgetary and deadline challenges that Colorado legislators faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 session was a tough, short and productive one for advocacy groups focused on the health and well-being of Coloradans."

Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, another Democratic member of the JBC, said the budget wouldn't move mountains but it was the best the General Assembly could do to hold vital services together.

"It is a budget that demonstrates our values," he said. "It protects housing. It protects child welfare. It protects food assistance and it protects Medicaid. It protects people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I think those are all important things to stand behind."

The new budget year begins July 1.

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