Governor's budget proposal restores some cuts, increases funding in 'critical' areas

Proposal is up roughly 5 percent over last year

DENVER - Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's budget proposal includes more funding for education, more Medicaid spending, and pay increases for state employees for the first time in four years.

The budget proposal released Thursday represents the first time since the Great Recession where the state hasn't faced major cuts. If approved, the state budget would be increased about five percent.

We're now at the point where we are beginning to be able to restore some of the deep cuts that we've made over the last couple of years," Hickenlooper said.

The state general fund that lawmakers have control over will grow to $8.1 billion next year, up from about $7.6 billion last year. The governor's economists have credited Colorado's improving economy to tax receipts from one-time stock sales.

Hickenlooper is proposing $201.6 million more for schools, to bring the K-12 budget to $3 billion. It's the biggest portion of general fund spending, followed by health and human services.

The increases, the governor admits, are modest because the economy is still recovering. He said each increase was made asking, "where can we make those restorations where we get maximum benefit?"

Highlights of the proposed education increases include $23.9 million be spent to enhance full day Kindergarten and pre-school opportunities and to improve teacher quality in hard to fill areas of the state. The summary also said they anticipate 8,592 new students next year and plan to spend $185 more per student.

The proposal also includes money earmarked for programs aimed at attracting and retaining employers. Funding of $3 million for the Strategic Fund in the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. That money is expected to spur recruitment of 1,230 jobs to Colorado.

“It is heartening to be an the other side of what has been a very steep decline and to see ourselves clearly recovering," Hickenlooper said.

Lawmakers will work on the budget and make any changes next year.

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