The Associated Press November 2, 2010, 3:49PM ET

Colorado smokers, parks take proposed budget hit

Smokers, students, state employees and people who use state parks will feel the pain of Colorado budget cuts next year.

Gov. Bill Ritter laid out his plans Tuesday for a $19.1 billion budget to cover a projected $715 million revenue deficit. The current budget is $18.2 billion.

The budget totals don't count about $1.5 billion in duplicate spending, which includes in-house legal services. Duplicate spending items show up in the budget twice: As income for the department providing the service and as expenses for the department getting the service.

Ritter's proposal largely protects higher education with $555 million in state funding, but colleges and universities still face a cut of $89 million in federal stimulus funding. It also includes a projected 9 percent increase in tuition that must be approved by university boards for next year.

However, the $43 million budget increase for public schools will only cover a portion of the $130 million total cost of inflation and enrollment increases, including a $53 million decline in local property taxes because of the economic downturn.

Other cuts include:

- Elimination of $2.7 million a year state funding for state parks, resulting in a $1 increase in the daily park fee.

- Continuing a suspension of the cigarette sales tax exemption of 2.9 percent per pack costing smokers $31 million a year.

- No automatic pay increases for state employees and a cut in benefits for part-time state employees. As of October, the state had 3,300 fewer state employees than it had two years ago.

Ritter said his plan will keep Colorado on the road to sustainable economic growth. Over the past three years, the state has covered $4.5 billion in revenue shortfalls because of the Great Recession.

"While our economy is stabilizing, increases in Medicaid, children's health care, student enrollment and other nondiscretionary caseloads continue to outstrip revenues," Ritter said.

Lawmakers won't vote on the budget until March.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, head of the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee that sets state spending priorities, said the Legislature predicts $300 million less revenue next year than the governor's budget, and that could force more cuts.

"I think the governor's proposed budget is certainly making some difficult choices. The governor lays out a good starting point," he said.

Ferrandino said public schools will face cuts because they make up 43 percent of the state general fund budget.


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