Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has big plans for the 2023-24 budget including investing in safety, protecting the environment and education.
Polis, who was joined by Director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting Lauren Larson, presented it to the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado General Assembly Nov. 15.
“We must continue pushing forward and address the challenges facing Coloradans,” wrote Polis in a letter to the budget committee. “Our State isn’t alone, and across the country people face higher costs, the impacts of a changing climate and challenges to our safety and communities.”
The letter continued, stating Polis is committed to addressing issues the public faces including ideas to strengthen education, reduce crime and protect resources.
“It also means strong fiscal management, which is critical to good government and protecting all Coloradans’ futures,” the letter said. “We are focused on making investments with high expected returns, restraining operating growth to 7% — which is below inflation — and holding the General Fund reserve at a historic high of 15%, as is necessary and prudent during these uncertain economic times.”
During the 2023-24 school year the Colorado Department of Early Childhood will fund at least 10 hours of voluntary preschool for all eligible children after the general assembly passed a new law carving out the program this year. This budget would add $10 million to build capacity for the program, while increasing provider participation. Polis also proposed an increase of $704 million for K-12 education arguing the investment is critical given the pandemic’s impact including drops in student test scores.
Higher education would also get $86 million which would be used to keep tuition increases at half the rate of inflation. Polis also proposed $8.4 million for school safety which includes investing in physical security in school buildings.
“Education from cradle to career is one of the most important investments the state can make for the current and future well-being of Colorado families and communities,” the letter said.
About $42 million would be put toward public safety. That includes improving tools and resources to reduce auto theft, which is on a record pace in Colorado. Some of the funding would also be used to help recruit and retain officers and create two additional special investigative units within the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Homelessness is also a top priority for Polis, according to the statement. He wants to add resources on top of the $200 million from the previous legislative session to help alleviate the problem.
“Despite our incredible economic rebound, there are many in our state who continue to struggle,” the letter said. “Mental health, addiction, homelessness and housing costs were challenges before the pandemic, but these last two years have pushed communities across the country into a crisis.”
In November, the Department of Local Affairs will release $155 million of available funding for community proposals to reduce homelessness. The new budget also proposed $5 million to combat homelessness which includes housing vouchers for former foster youth and expanding housing options for at-risk homeless adults.
Climate and clean air are another major priority for Polis as droughts, high temperatures and wildfires continue to assault the state. Under his proposed package he wants to invest $38.3 million in mitigation, suppression and recovery for wildfire readiness. That funding includes nearly $14 million in aerial resources to stop wildfires and another $7 million supporting local firefighters’ mitigation efforts.
The governor proposed nearly $18 million for the State Water Plan grant program, with nearly $12.6 million coming from sports betting revenue, to help advance high-priority water projects. Polis added he wants to give about $2 million to build a Colorado River Policy and Technical Support Team which could help in interstate river compact negotiations.
The letter stated the budget requests $42.7 billion in total funds. The general fund request for the proposed budget is $16.7 billion.
“This represents an operating increase of 3.5% in total funds and 7% in general fund above FY 2022-23 enacted levels, but an overall reduction after accounting for placeholders and deductions,” the letter said.