The 2010 Colorado legislative session opened today with the state budget expected to dominate the next four and a half months. The state has dealt with a nearly $2 billion shortfall over the last two budget years, and faces a deficit in the budget year that begins in July that could be more than $1.3 billion. The state has weathered the crisis largely through the use of one-time sources of money, such as cash funds and federal stimulus funds.
As they begin their 2010 session, legislators will take a second look at the public schools budget, the state bureaucracy, and even tax credits that could help carry Colorado out of recession. Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed a $260 million cut in funding for kindergarten through 12th-grade schools. He also wants to raise $312 million by charging sales tax on candy and soda and by eliminating or suspending a dozen tax breaks.
Lawmakers may start by voting to rescind $110 million that they had set aside for schools. Lawmakers agreed last year to include the money for schools in the budget–but to withhold it until more economic data was available.
Other strategies include a bill to combine state agencies and offer financial incentives to school districts to cut costs. The proposed bill would abolish the position of executive director of the Department of Local Affairs and give those responsibilities to the lieutenant governor, whose only real duty is overseeing Indian affairs.