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McLachlan: A responsible and bi-partisan budget effort

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Friday, March 30, 2018 4:47 PM
Rep. Barbara McLachlan

Colorado’s constitution requires the state of Colorado to balance its budget every year; that sounds easier than it is.

Our strong 2018 economic forecast provided a boost to the budget, and gave hope of addressing a number of unmet needs in our state. But those numbers are large, the needs widespread and the prediction of continued positive forecast news shaky.

The Joint Budget Committee, with three Republicans and three Democrats, voted unanimously for the proposed budget, after hearing about legislative priorities, where the need is greatest and dollars could go the furthest. It was a remarkable bipartisan effort.

The House passed its version Thursday, after a day of debating amendments. Now it heads to the Senate. And we’re pretty happy. The draft includes:

More than $600 million in increased funding for education, which includes about $266 million to avoid growing the “budget stabilization factor” (formerly known as the “negative factor”) and an additional $150 million to decrease the shortfall further, the largest such investment since the negative factor was created in 2009. Higher education is slated to receive $114 million more. Rural school districts may receive a one-time $30 million boost and, to help address the teacher shortage which I ran a bill on last year, $10 million has been set aside. Another $42 million is being considered for various school safety measures. $495 million is budgeted to help fix Colorado’s crumbling, overburdened transportation system. Amendments designated part of the money be given to counties, cities and multi-modal uses, for local problem-solving. This is an important investment but doesn’t address the $9 billion in statewide needs that currently exist. That funding may be tied to a November ballot measure by outside entities.For PERA, we set aside some funding to help ensure the retirement fund’s long-term stability for teachers and other public-sector employees. This money is tied to legislative efforts to address the unfunded liability. Concerns exist with the proposal as it currently stands, but negotiations continue. I am particularly pleased that Western State Colorado University and Fort Lewis College will directly benefit from the $137 million for capital development on state-owned buildings and property. Hardworking Colorado families will see $12.3 million for the Child Care Assistance Program, reducing waiting lists and expanding access to child care. And $6.5 million is slated to address the opioid addiction epidemic statewide.The March forecast, on which the budget is based, came with a warning that we could be headed for a financial downturn, so we have been careful not to make too many promises of long-term payments. If that crash does occur, we don’t want to have over-committed our resources – which would mean having to cut funding for key needs like education.

We are fortunate this year to have the opportunity to invest in priorities that will benefit Colorado families and rural areas like ours. I am proud of the work we’ve done and I look forward to seeing the difference it will make for hardworking Coloradans across the state.

Barbara McLachlan represents State House District 59. Reach her at barbara.mclachlan.house@state.co.us.

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