We ain’t seen nothing yet.
That was the message given to a legislative commission Wednesday by state budget experts who predict the General Assembly will have to cut from $900 million to $1 billion from the 2010-11 fiscal year budget.
How much is that? It’s about 25 percent of the General Fund, or the equivalent of the state budget for a fourth of Colorado’s public schools, or every penny that goes to higher education or the entire prison system.
Gov. Bill Ritter’s office confirmed that the dismal estimates were valid last week in a letter to department heads.
The predictions were delivered to the 16-person, bipartisan Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission at a Wednesday meeting, the first of many that will continue throughout the summer. Hopes are that the commission will show the Legislature how to restore Colorado’s fiscal health.
But prospects are bleak.
One of the last presenters on Wednesday was Charlie Brown, former executive director of the Legislative Council staff, who now directs the Center for Colorado’s Economic Future at the University of Denver. Brown released a study this week that goes into painstaking — and painful — detail in explaining how constitutional amendments such as TABOR, Amendment 23 and other spending limits have tied the Legislature’s hands, making it impossible to budget effectively.
Brown portrayed a state heading for a massive fiscal crisis on cruise control.
“I think what gave rise to this report is a gut level fear that I have that the door is closing as you look down the road,” Brown said. “I see an increasing amount of money in the state’s budget being soaked up by K-12 education, Medicaid and prisons. And when you see these three departments growing at a rate that is two to three times faster than the General Fund, something has got to give.”