Colorado governor unveils state budget plan amid pandemic

November 2, 2020 GMT

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis proposed a $35 billion state budget Monday for the fiscal year starting next July 1 that he said would restore drastic cuts caused by the pandemic, promote job growth and replenish state reserves.

Polis said his proposal would restore drastic K-12 and higher education funding cuts and contributions to the state employees’ pension fund while supporting Colorado’s Medicaid and human services caseloads. Medicaid helps lower-income residents with health insurance.

Polis will present the plan to the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee on Nov. 12. The committee is charged with crafting a balanced state budget each legislative session. The 2021 session begins in January.

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The proposed general fund budget — the discretionary part of the overall spending plan — totals nearly $15 billion. It includes $577 million dedicated to COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment, contact tracing and other efforts to curb the virus. An additional $200 million would be set aside to respond to pandemic needs, the Democratic governor said. Nearly $180 million would replenish an emergency reserve depleted by pandemic-related spending priorities this year.

Proposals to stimulate Colorado’s economy include $105 million in tax relief and aid for small businesses, including restaurants and bars, affected by COVID restrictions such as seating capacity limits. A proposed $220 million would fund infrastructure projects, including several planned by the Department of Transportation, Polis said.

Some $50 million would go to preventing evictions of people whose incomes have been hurt by the pandemic. Another $50 million would go to support childcare services.

In this year’s coronavirus-shortened session, lawmakers cut $3.3 billion from the $13 billion general fund for the fiscal year that began July 1. Cuts included $621 million from K-12 funding and $598 million from higher education. the budget also eliminated a $225 million payment into the state employee retirement fund.

Polis previously announced nearly $289 million in cuts for fiscal year 2019-2020 to offset declining revenue. In another cost-cutting move, he announced furloughs of state workers in September.

Colorado COVID-19 cases are surging as the percentage of positive tests has surpassed 9% in recent weeks and hospitalizations jimp. More than 1,900 people in Colorado have died since the pandemic began and the state reports there have been roughly 110,000 probable and confirmed cases. The total number of new infections is not known because not everyone is tested.

The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.