Fiscal conservatives see priority problem in Colorado’s new budget

Fiscal conservatives see priority problem in Colorado’s new budget

FILE - Colorado State Capitol
The Colorado State Capitol in Denver, Colorado.

Colorado lawmakers last week approved a $32.5 billion budget to fund the government, but not everyone is cheering. 

The new budget includes $300 million for road funding, which took much negotiating between majority Democrats and minority Republicans. It also includes $175 million for full-day kindergarten, less than Gov. Jared Polis requested, and a 3 percent raise for state employees.

Budget writers also had to pull $40 million from some state reserve funds.

Democrats have struggled to find funding for transportation and education, among other priorities, because they can’t raise taxes at-will without voter approval thanks to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).

Colorado voters have recently rejected tax hikes to fund transportation and education.

The TABOR restriction is something that’s praised by Republicans and fiscal conservatives in the state and frustrates Democrats, but conservatives have pointed out the state continues to increase spending each year.

“Colorado’s state budget has consistently been going up by more than $1 billion every year,” said Michael Fields, executive director of the conservative advocacy group Colorado Rising Action. “What we have is a prioritization problem, not a revenue problem, and any efforts by liberals to raise taxes or take tax refunds should be rejected.”

Kelly Sloan, an energy and environment policy fellow at the Centennial Institute, said it’s important lawmakers get their priorities straight before they start talking about raising taxes.

“We all agree that transportation funding is a priority, education funding is a priority, and public safety is a priority. Let’s fund those first, then we can start fighting over what’s left over,” he said. “Then if you want to increase taxes to pay for some of these other programs, then let’s have that discussion.”

“Every dollar spent by the State of Colorado must first come from the private sector in one form or another. TABOR minimizes the amount the state can take, thus maximizing the amount left to the general public,” Prentice said. “One reason the Colorado state economy is growing faster than the national average, is that state spending is growing below the national average due to TABOR.”

Democrats in the legislature have several unapproved plans to raise revenue – whether it be through keeping tax refunds or raising fees – that they hope to pass before the session concludes on May 3.

The budget was sent to the governor for a signature on Wednesday.

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