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Polis' budget plan would boost economic recovery, state's savings account

The governor unveiled a plan for the state budget for FY 2021-22 that would increase spending for education, health care and wildfire mitigation.

DENVER — On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis unveiled a budget plan for next year that would put more state funds into education, health care, wildfire mitigation and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first Monday in November was the deadline for budgets to be turned into the Joint Budget Committee, which is made up of six lawmakers who help hone the state's billions-dollar budget before it gets to the state legislature for final debate and approval.

The Colorado governor requested a FY 2021-22 budget with $35.4 billion in total funds that he said would restore some reductions made in the FY 2020-21 budget. The fiscal year 2021-22 budget goes into effect on July 1, 2021.

The governor's full budget plan can be read here.

"This budget isn't about just getting back to where we used to be," Polis said at a news conference Monday. "That wasn't good enough. It's about taking this challenging time, this difficult time, to utilize lessons learned and boldly forge a path that positions our state for the future."

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring wiped out the General Fund reserves, which is essentially the state's saving account, and left the General Fund in the red. Since then, the state's revenue forecast has improved, but the state is still projecting a deficit through FY 2022-23.

Polis' plan proposes that "any one-time funds available be restored to the reserve and saved for the forecasted deficit" and for increasing the General Fund reserves from 2.86% to 10%, or about $1.26 billion. That would require putting an additional $900 million into the state's savings account.

He's also requesting a one-time stimulus and investment package of $1.3 billion for FY 2021-22 to "put Coloradans back to work and build for the future."

"Investment in a robust and rapid recovery, coupled with strong reserves, is the best way to ease budget pressure in future years," Polis said.

The governor highlighted his plan to increase education funding to $902 per pupil, which would return that spending to its level from FY 2019-20, and to also restore higher education funding to the level of the FY 2019-20 budget.

Health care is also a priority in his budget plan, as the state and the nation are seeing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases and facing a long-term recovery.

The impacts of the pandemic weigh heavily on the state's budget. Most state employees were required to take furloughs this year to address a budget shortfall, and the state is using $577 million in available state and federal funds for testing, PPE and other COVID-19 support.

Polis proposed $179 million to repay emergency spending from the State Emergency Reserve and another $200 million for additional COVID-19 response costs.

The governor's budget plan also proposed several economic stimulus measures to help the state recover from the pandemic, including $1.3 billion for local businesses; $105 million in tax relief and direct aid for restaurants, bars and small businesses; $50 million each for housing eviction prevention and support to child care providers.

The plan includes $220 million to create jobs through "shovel-ready" public works and infrastructure projects, and $78 million for wildfire mitigation, response and recovery.

Polis on Nov. 12 will testify on his requests to the state's Joint Budget Committee, which is charged with writing the state budget that goes to the General Assembly. The legislature then must pass the budget before it goes to the governor for his approval.

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