Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ritter Announces More Budget Cuts for FY 2010

Gov. Bill Ritter said Tuesday he will cut $320 million in state spending this fiscal year by releasing some prisoners and eliminating almost 270 government jobs, among other actions, and that he will seek to raise fees for background checks on those who seek to buy guns.

The announcement came as the governor works to close an expected $318 million shortfall this fiscal year.

The current budget gap follows earlier expected deficits of $1.4 billion, which were eliminated by other spending reductions and transfers from cash funds.

Ritter also plans to attack the current shortfall by relying on federal dollars provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama in February. $52.5 million will be provided this year by Washington to pay for Medicaid programs. Ritter is also counting on $80.9 million to replace money Colorado cut from its higher education institutions.

So-called "stimulus" money from the federal government will be reduced next year and then be eliminated in fiscal year 2012.

The governor will also rely on additional transfers from cash funds.

Next year's shortfall could be larger than the one Ritter is currently dealing with under the authority granted him by state law to prevent budget deficits. Some estimates indicate that the state government could be facing an obligation to pay at least $350 million more for prisons, health care and social programs.

The spending reductions from corrections will come, according to Ritter, by releasing some prisoners six months early and by terminating post-release supervision of some convicts on parole.

Ritter also wants to eliminate 59 beds at a Fort Logan mental health facility and close a 32-bed nursing home in Grand Junction.

The plan also eliminates $200 monthly stipends given people who have applied for Social Security Supplemental benefits from the federal government but have not yet started receiving them.

The spending cuts amount to about 3.5 percent of the state's general fund.

The suggested fee increases include a new $10.50 charge for background checks assessed on those who attempt to purchase a firearm and an increase in the current $17.95 fee assessed on new government employees for a criminal background check.

The General Assembly would have to approve the fee increases for them to take effect.

The governor has the authority to execute the spending cuts without legislative approval. Most of them will take effect Sept. 1.