Colorado’s State Budget

No matter the sector you work in, you know budgets are critical. They are a reflection of an organization’s priorities. And, the state of Colorado’s budget is no different.

Every December and March, the state issues an updated budget forecast based on policy changes and actual performance since the last forecast. The last two budgets recognize unanticipated increases in revenue for two primary reasons — changes in federal tax policy and increased economic activity. Approximately $250 million is estimated from the change in federal tax policy, which will result in the state collecting more income tax revenue. As long as that tax policy is in place, this revenue will be collected by the state. While Congress could change tax policy again at any time, the tax policy put in place also expires in 10 years. Additionally, the economy of our state is performing stronger than anticipated and is receiving additional taxes (including corporate income tax) and expecting increased capital gains estimated to bring in approximately $500 million in one-time revenue this year for the state.

This additional revenue means that our legislature and governor have resources to allocate to state priorities.

The governor has requested that the Joint Budget Committee allocate $500 million in one-time funding in the budget year 2018-2019 to the Colorado Department of Transportation. (CDOT has over $7 billion in transportation projects with no source of funding.) Gov. Hickenlooper’s budget would also set aside $200 million for K-12 education. (Currently, more than half of the state’s school districts have gone to four-day school weeks due to a lack of funding – we’re 47th in student funding out of 50 states.) And, another $90 million to be spent on other pressing issues as decided by the legislature.

The governor’s budget highlights two critical areas that need state funding: transportation and education. We know there are other pressures, too: Colorado’s pension system, PERA, has a $32 billion unfounded liability; the state’s water plan calls for investment in our water infrastructure at $100 million a year for the next 30 years; higher education is funded 48th of 50 states; and even prisons are asking for more resources.

We don’t argue with the importance of these issues, but as we shared in late February, we’ve been part of a large statewide coalition trying to address our critical transportation needs. We have underfunded transportation for decades, and it’s costing us $6.8 billion each year because of traffic congestion delays, damage to vehicles, accidents and lost gas efficiency. As the coalition focuses on increasing funding via a ballot issue in November, we want to ensure that we only ask voters for what we absolutely need. So, we are working closely with the governor and the legislature to maximize transportation funding with the resources available and keep our options open at the ballot. To that end, the coalition has filed five ballot titles to raise sales tax in Colorado.

As we monitor what the state commits to transportation funding, we will choose which of the five ballot titles we have filed to take forward in November to ensure our economic success and our quality of life aren’t further negatively impacted because we are failing to address both our state and local transportation needs.

Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber.