Colorado's economy is among the best in the nation, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday, as he presented a $24.1 billion budget for next year that is growing by $1.07 billion, or 4.7 percent.
"I think 2013 marks an important milestone. We have now exceeded the pre-great recession peak employment line," Hickenlooper told the legislative Joint Budget Committee. "This is especially impressive when you look at how we've endured massive natural disasters in not just recent months but recent years."
The budget committee will take the recommended budget and use it to help draft a bill lawmakers will consider during the 2014 legislative session. Of the total, only about $9 billion is included in Colorado's general fund budget, with much of the other money coming in the form of federal pass-through funding.
Almost half of the billion-dollar increase will come from three areas - increasing emergency reserves, K-12 education funding and higher education.
Key in the budget increase is tucking more money away for emergencies in the state's rainy day fund, jumping from 5 percent to 6.5 percent, which Hickenlooper said is enough money to run the state for 24 days.
"Short of an ideal buffer against the worst of times," he said. "In calendar year 2013 alone we endured seven significant fires and two major floods, one of them actually described as biblical."
That jump in emergency funding will cost almost $128 million.
Hickenlooper is also requesting an additional $258.4 million for K-12 education general budget. That money equates to a $223 per student funding increase to school districts, but falls far short of the goals envisioned in the $1 billion tax increase for education voters defeated in Tuesday's election.
The increase is just enough to keep up with inflation and increased student enrollment, a constitutional mandate under Amendment 23, which Hickenlooper called a leaky bucket.
"If our request is approved over the last two years we will have managed to increase per-pupil spending by almost $400," he said. "But let's be clear, to catch up with the unfunded inflation and enrollment under Amendment 23, to get back in compliance with Amendment 23, we would need an additional $1,200 per student. Clearly the bucket is still leaking."
Higher education will see a bump of $101.8 million in funding under Hickenlooper's proposed budget, the majority of which will pay for operational expenses. An additional $40 million will be made available for student aid and scholarships based on need and merit.
The new chair of the Joint Budget Committee, Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, asked the governor how he arrived at that budget for higher education.
"I actually would have liked to have seen more," she said.
In Colorado the legislature writes the budget and the governor has line-item veto powers. The budget submitted by Hickenlooper is advisory only.
A number of significant higher education capital construction projects are also being funded under Hickenlooper's proposal, including $13.3 million for the proposed Visual and Performing Arts Center at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.
Contact Megan Schrader