Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sen. Johnston Named to Education Commission

Newly-appointed Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, has been named to a prestigious bipartisan panel charged with recommending improvements to the country's most significant public education law.

Johnston, the former principal at Thornton's Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, will join the Aspen Institute's Commission on No Child Left Behind.

The commission will study how to improve low-performing schools, teacher effectiveness, standards and assessments, and graduation rates.

The panel meets for the first time Sept. 2 at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Other members of the commission include former Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson and former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes.

Ground Broken for New Colorado History Museum

The Centennial state will soon have a new history museum.

About a hundred people gathered at 12th Avenue and Broadway in Denver Wednesday for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Colorado History Museum.

The new museum replaces the facility located adjacent to the state's Judicial Building west of the Capitol.

Construction of the $111 million replacement facility is being financed by certificates of participation. Build America Bonds issued by the federal government will reimburse Colorado for 35 percent of the interest paid by the state on the project.

The result of that federal assistance, made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enacted into law in February, will be that investors in the certificates of participation receive full return on their investment while the state's taxpayers pay an effective interest rate of only 4.24 percent.

State treasurer Cary Kennedy says that the federal help will save Colorado $77 million on the project.

The new museum, which will be about 190,000 square feet in size, is scheduled to open in 2011.

The new judicial complex, which is expected to cost about $250 million, is to open in 2013.

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.