Colorado must close prisons, slice roughly $225 million from schools and higher education and suspend property-tax breaks for senior citizens to close its funding shortfall, Gov. Bill Ritter's budget director said Tuesday.
The proposals are part of approximately $823 million in personnel and service cuts Ritter proposed for the budget year beginning on July 1. The governor also hopes to take some $264 million out of earmarked funds to keep government services running, Office of State Planning and Budgeting Director Todd Saliman told the Joint Budget Committee.
Sales and income tax revenues, which are dropping sharply this recession, were forecast last month to be roughly $1 billion short of the expenditures Ritter proposed for fiscal year 2009-10. Saliman earlier this month announced about $201 million in cuts to be made over the next six months but warned then that reductions for the next year are going to be much worse.
Those proposed reductions include closure of the Rifle Correctional Facility and the Colorado Women's Correctional Facility in Canon City, as well as a delay in the opening of a new maximum-security prison in Fremont County. They include cuts of about $125 million to K-12 education and $100 million to higher education and the three-year suspension of the Homestead Tax Exemption for seniors and disabled veterans who have owned their homes for 10 years.
Reactions to the cuts varied.
Environment Colorado legislative director Pam Kiely praised Ritter for not cutting air- and water-quality programs deeply.
Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Executive Director Christie Donner suggested the prison closings are not crippling because the state has enough open beds in private and public prisons to house all of the inmates.
But Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said the final decisions on the cuts will be very difficult to make.
"I am very aware of the deep and lasting impact this will have on Coloradans," Tapia said.