Guest column

Budget deal yields a mixed bag

Column by state Sen. Linda Newell
Posted 4/26/16

After our spirited debate on the floor and compromises in conference committee, the General Assembly finally passed a 2016-17 budget. As you can imagine, it isn’t perfect, and there are flaws, but at least we’re balanced.

In a year when we …

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Guest column

Budget deal yields a mixed bag

Posted

After our spirited debate on the floor and compromises in conference committee, the General Assembly finally passed a 2016-17 budget. As you can imagine, it isn’t perfect, and there are flaws, but at least we’re balanced.

In a year when we started facing a major deficit and overall budget crisis, our Joint Budget Committee members worked very hard to get a budget that slightly increases per-pupil spending in K-12 education, which actually only holds the “negative factor” flat. That means we’re still lower in per-pupil education funding than many other states, but at least we were able to hold the line and not cut any more.

We were also able to prevent more cuts to higher education. That said, we weren’t able to give any as well, so we’re hearing the colleges and universities are planning on more tuition increases next year and beyond. Until we’re allowed to use more of the revenue we’re receiving, students (and parents) will continue to see tuition rates rise.

Also in the budget, are dollars to fund some transportation projects to fix the roads. However, each year, Colorado is approximately $1 billion dollars short of being able to cover adequate transportation needs. Yes, that’s with a B. And yes, we’ll continue to be driving through the obstacle courses of potholes, and paying for our popped tires or banged undercarriages, until we have a better long-term fix to transportation funding.

The good news — some helpful amendments were accepted, including:

• $500,000 to help rural Colorado recruit and retain teachers (a dying breed out there).

• $500,000 to the Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund to ensure people who suffer head trauma can receive the care they need to recover, no matter the situation.

• And my own amendment to get $100,000 to some of our suicide prevention projects that have been started, but not fully implemented due to lack of funding, like our award-winning Man Therapy program. Check it out at ManTherapy.org.

The bad news — some problems we couldn’t fix:

• $73 million cut from our hospitals, putting the status of rural hospitals and citizens on alert and at risk.

• $52 million cut from transportation that would have gone toward fixing our roads.

• $340,000 cut from the Air Pollution Control Division, just as we’re discovering we’ve got some of the worst air quality problems in the country.

So, you can see, we definitely ended up with a mixed bag this year, and long-term, Colorado still needs to find out how to get access to the funds we’re receiving and not allowed by the constitution to use. And although a short-term fix, we truly need to resolve the Hospital Provider Fee issue you’ve been hearing about, and pass House Bill 1420.

With less than three weeks of session left, we can do it easily. If we can get it through Senate leadership.

You’re welcome to join me down at the Capitol to see the happenings for yourself. Just email me and we’ll arrange it for you.

Linda Newell is the Democratic state senator for District 26, which encompasses Littleton, Englewood, Sheridan, Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village, west Centennial and parts of Aurora. She can be reached at (303) 866-4846 or Linda.newell.senate@gmail.com.

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