The March Revenue Forecast is in and the “Battle Over Bucks” is gearing up under the Golden Dome. Throughout this session, I have been alerting you to the fact that a battle was brewing over the upcoming budget and TABOR – the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Well, the war broke out this week!
Here is the scoop: The March Revenue Forecast unveiled the amount of new money available for the next budget cycle and all the bills that have been in a holding pattern are lining up for funding. In the MRF for the 2015-16 budget year, Legislative Council projects that the General Assembly will have an increase in General Fund dollars to allocate in the budget. The increase amounts to approximately $831.4 million or 8.7 percent. There is an additional $49.1 million surplus left over from fiscal year 2014-15. These amounts reflect the dollars available to spend even after TABOR refunds and SB 09-228 transfers are accounted for. (There was, however, a decrease of $218.6 million in projected revenues compared to the September Revenue Forecast.)
What does all this mean? I am glad you asked! Overall, the MRF is lower than the September projection, but there will still be an estimated $831.4 million in new dollars to spend. It is anticipated that TABOR refunds will kick in, but the amount refunded will be rather small in the first year. The “dollar debate” is a passionately partisan issue. Democrats continue to seize every opportunity to demonize TABOR as the reason there is no revenue available to fund state programs. Republicans are quick to counter with the fact that the General Fund has increased its expenditures $2.9 billion (with a B!) since 2009, with approximately $831.4 million available for additional growth in the 2015-16 budget.
Two big players in the budget process are K-12 Education and Health & Human Services. According to the analysts, it will take 58 cents out of every new dollar coming into the General Fund to meet the ongoing K-12 needs created during the last General Assembly. In addition, Medicaid recipients continue to inflate the Health & Human Services budget. (Medicaid alone has increased well more than 200 percent.) After dollars are allocated to schools and Medicaid (not to mention Corrections), the remaining dollars will be fought over like the last piece of pie at Thanksgiving!
The budget is not the only “battle” taking place under the Golden Dome. SB 15-215 (Sen. Hill’s Assessment Bill) has touched off a scuffle within the Senate Republicans. Everyone agrees that something must be done about the number of assessments being given. No one seems to be able to agree on how the changes should look.
But wait – there’s more! The waters are muddied further by the inclusion of teacher evaluations, the R.E.A.D. Act, federal guidelines, etc. into an “assessment” bill. Sen. Hill had hoped to push through an assessment bill before the budget hit the floor — not this time!
Bills will be moving rapidly in the upcoming days and weeks as the 2015-16 budget begins to take shape. Be sure to watch for the bills that are of special interest to you. You can reach us at (303) 866-2747 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com .
Jim Wilson is the representative for House District 60.