SAN LUIS — State Representative Ed Vigil hosted a budget meeting at the nursing service conference room in San Luis on Saturday.
Vigil said he mostly wanted to listen to the concerns of those present regarding the budget.
“Right now everything is still on the table,” he said. “The senate and house are having trouble negotiating which items to work on and what to take out of the budget.”
Colorado’s constitution requires that the budget be balanced every year. Unlike the federal government, Colorado cannot run a deficit. For this reason, Vigil said they would keep working on it until they definitely come up with a balanced budget.
The biggest issue is the $375 million proposed cuts to schools. The purpose of this is so Governor John Hickenlooper could add two percent to the reserve, bringing it up to four percent.
Vigil, however, does not want to see such a large cut to the schools. There are also talks underway about consolidating school districts and/or transportation. Many schools in the larger cities have cut down on their bus routes and eliminated buses for sporting events.
Talks have also taken place about combining the Parks and Recreation with the Division of Wildlife. Vigil said they tried this in the past and it didn’t work because they are two very different cultures. If this were done the biggest impact would be on state parks. Vigil’s position is that it needs to be studied for a year before writing a bill.
Vigil stated that the governor looks at the government of Colorado as a private business, but Vigil believes the government is more diverse than that and should be viewed more like a huge corporation.
Over the last 10 years demand for services in Colorado has gone up; however, the revenue has stayed the same. Colorado is ranked 49th in the country for the low level of taxes charged to Coloradoans and ranks low in the level of education as well.
Colorado population has increased since 2001 by 90 percent, prison population has increased by 34 percent, K-12 enrollment as increased by 15 percent, higher education enrollment has increased by 31 percent; yet the general fund revenues are still hovering at 2001 levels.
Ninety percent of the governor’s proposal is committed to cutting spending, which means a possible loss of 263 full time government employees. The plan includes: a $375 million reduction in K-12 education; a $36 million reduction to higher education; a $5 million reduction to corrections; a $57.3 million reduction to healthcare; a $17.3 million reduction to human services; and a two percent increase to the reserve approximately $290 million to maintain the desired four percent.
Erin Minks, a representative for U.S. Senator Mark Udall, said that if the federal government can’t reach an agreement regarding the budget by April 9, which is the next significant deadline, that there will possibly be a government shut down for an undetermined amount of time.
Government employees would not be able to go to work. However, essential government services would still be available and veteran and disability benefits would still be paid. The last government shutdown was in 1996 and 1997.
Representative Ed Vigil and State Senator Gail Schwartz will hold another budget meeting on Saturday, April 16, in the Valley Wide Health Facility at 1 p.m., Many citizens present at the San Luis meeting and past meetings are concerned about the cumulative cuts to schools thus far. Therefore, Vigil and Schwartz plan to emphasize education during the next budget meeting.