(Drowning in the bathtub yet? – promoted by Colorado Pols)
Colorado’s hopes of sustaining funding to our K-12, and especially our higher education system, have been eviscerated with the release of September’s revenue forecasts from the Legislative Council and Office of State Planning and Budgeting. $257 million in cuts are expected this fiscal year. Just nine short months away, we face more than $1 billion in cuts to our state government.
The problem is there is nowhere to cut. If you don’t believe me, try balancing the budget yourself. $4.4 billion has been cut from our state budget since the start of the Great Recession. When speaking on a funding allocation that the Colorado Commission on Higher Education would send to the legislature, Commissioner Greg Stevinson wanted to send a message, “that we just can’t take any more cuts….We’re cut to the bone.”
For someone who pays close attention to our state budget, every year feels like “Groundhog Day”. Our state, more than any other, significantly relied on federal stimulus dollars to back-fill our higher education budget. With the cessation of Stimulus dollars and a billion dollar shortfall, the 2011-12 fiscal year could eliminate all state support for higher education. This is a foregone conclusion if Amendments 60, 61 or Proposition 101 pass. Our state’s constitutional funding mandates have made higher education the prime target for cuts. If the last decade set any precedence for what the legislature will do, students and families can expect the cost of higher education shift to them.
Colorado’s support for higher education is already dismal. We are dead last in the nation in the funding of public four-year colleges. Since 1980, state support for higher education has decreased 70 percent. Per $1000 dollars of income, Coloradans pay $3.20 towards higher education, compared to a national average of $12.28. (View the HESP draft and background material for in-depth statistics)
All of our gubernatorial candidates have expressed that there “is not an appetite for tax increases”. I have heard this same sentiment echoed from many legislators. This may be true, but if we do drastically decrease our support for education in Colorado, we do so at our economic peril.
The committee created to develop a long-term plan for higher education has recommended exactly the opposite:
If you get a chance, read this draft. It coherently makes an economic argument that higher education is essential to Colorado’s future. It also lays out possible revenue streams. From the introduction, “We believe our decisions on higher education- how we fund it and what we demand of it- will be key to our future, now more than ever…Without changing the course of our state is now on, we are destined for a future that we don’t want. We need to invest more.”
This state desperately needs adults of all political stripes to come together and find a solution to our budget crisis. Any intelligent person who has read our revenue forecast can tell that we need new revenue in order to keep our state’s services afloat. Try cutting $1.2 billion from our state budget. Can you honestly say that we don’t need new revenue?
Our new Governor and Legislature will have difficult choices to make the minute they step into office. If they cede to what is politically safe, our state’s ability to compete economically will be impeded at the worst time possible.
Cross posted at Square State