18 August 2009

Ritter Seeks To Cut State Budget By $320 Million

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter has proposed $320 million in state budget cuts to deal with another round of forecast budget shortfalls, which will:

eliminate 267 state positions to balance the budget, but it's not clear how many people will lose their jobs because some posts are vacant. . . .the shortfall, once estimated at $384 million, turned out to be $318 million. The cuts announced today amount to around $320 million. . . .

[S]everance grants to communities impacted by mining are on hold until revenues pick back up. And the state will no longer issue $200 monthly checks to Coloradans who have applied for supplemental security income but aren't yet getting SSI money from the federal government.

The state is closing 59 beds at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan and 32 beds at the Grand Junction Regional Center, but no one will be thrown out. . . ."The beds will be open until appropriate places can be found in the community" . . . The cuts also include $18.5 million in savings to the state's Medicaid program, including $8.6 million from reducing health care provider rates by 1.5 percent. The reductions come on top of a 2 percent reduction last year. . . .

A number of cuts will go into effect Sept. 1, but some, such as increasing the fees for background checks on gun sales, require legislative approval.

The proposed background check fee is about $10.50.

Federal stimulus funds have prevented deeper cuts.

The winners:

K-12 education was spared because of Amendment 23, a constitutional provision that requires a certain amount of spending. Motor Vehicle Offices are safe, too because their funding no longer comes from the general fund . . .

Among the programs that were spared or saw only minor trims: tuition assistance for the National Guard; drug and alcohol treatment programs; community-based developmentally disabled and mental health services; a juvenile diversion program; and senior services, including Meals on Wheels.

In addition, the governor protected funding for the emergency preparedness and response program, which would handle any H1N1 flu effort.

Details are here (the first really comprehensive spreadsheet of cuts is on page 12). By line item, the biggest cuts include:

* Health Care Policy and Finance: $113 million (-7.0%)
Reduced funding for uncompensated care at hospitals, small cuts in administrative costs, Medicaid provider rate cuts, and telemedicine cuts.
* Higher Education: $81 million (-12.3%)
TBD by higher educational institutions
* Corrections: $26 million (-3.8%) (cuts 29 state jobs)
Reduced prisoner education, cut to a pilot plan to help parolees integrate, shortened parole terms, and reduced prison capacity growth.
* Human Services: $20 million (-3.0%) (cuts 186 state jobs)
IT and facilities management, new family therapy program when kids removed from home, child welfare services, childcare licensing, responsible fatherhood grant, mental health services for detained youths (no results shown), 59 mental hospital beds, services for state veteran nursing homes, developmental disability provider rate cut of 2.5%, cut 32 of 157 beds in Grand Junction for transitioning people to nursing homes, decreased caseloads and COLAs for old age pensions, services for delinquent youths in Boulder, cheaper youth corrections placements, interim aid to those awaiting SSI approval, one time 2% cut to youth corrections contract providers, cut seven youth parole officers.
* Judicial Branch: $10 million (-3.0%)
TBD by judiciary.
* Natural Resources: $2.7 million (-9.2%)
Parks and water rights management staff.
* Public Safety: $2.2 million (-2.6%) (cuts 7 state jobs)
Fees for background checks for gun ownership and for other purposes, community corrections administration, school outreach program size, state crime lab, IT, research and administrative costs).
* Revenue: $1.8 million (-2.4%) (cuts 20 state jobs)
Citizen's Advocate, tax regulation drafting, internal administration, closing of one in person tax payment location, commercial truck licensing, business tax collection staff, doing conservation easement appraisals in house.
* Public Health and Environment: $1.5 million (-5.4%)
Dental Care grants for seniors and a youth services grant.
Governor and Energy Office $1.1 million (-8%) (cuts 9 state jobs)
IT services and business development.
* Legislature: $1.0 million (-3.0%)
TBD by legislature.
* Local Affairs: $0.8 million (-6.5%)
Mineral and Energy impact funds.
* Agriculture: $0.7 million (-10.1%)
Reduced inspections and conservation district grants.

About $39.8 million will be transferred from cash funds, about $28 million from grants for local governments, about $5 million from funds set aside for unemployment, and much of the rest in managerial matters like debt refinancing and contract renegotiations.

Big cuts in state general fund support for higher education likely means big tuition increases, as the percentage cuts in this line item are the highest of the big cuts in the budget, making service cuts difficult to achieve. Higher education cuts typically disproportionately impact the flagship institutions, since four year and community college students are subsidized much less per student. higher education will become less affordable and less well funded at a time when demand is rising.

Contract providers of social services, corrections services and health services take cuts throughout the budget that they will simply have to suck up. Most are modest, but doctors who take many poor patients with Medicaid, hospitals that provide significant uncompensated care, and Medicaid pharma providers will take particularly deep hits. This may drive up private health insurance costs as these providers shift costs to customers with health insurance.

At-risk children, prisoners trying to reintegrate to society, and vulnerable people stuck in red tape while transitioning from one government program to another are also hit particularly hard by the budget cuts.

Admittedly, the Governor has very little discretion in proposing budget cuts. There is only so much fraud, waste and abuse that can be cut, there are many areas of the budget that are constitutionally off limits or mandated by federal law, and lots of state government programs are funded with off budget user's fees.

Also, few of the line items in the budget are large enough to make much of a dent in reduced government revenues no matter how deeply cut. The 3% across the board cuts for most departments, which were increased in some cases when possible, where largely symbolic, to show that government agencies are taking bigger cuts than private sector providers in most cases. On the other hand, the 7.0% cuts in agencies like the health care financing and administration, and the 3.0% cut in the human services department end up being more severe than they appear because demand for those services is cyclic and is high in bad times, and because they have few off budget cash funds to buffer them from general fund cuts.

The cuts in state jobs are unstated. Several agencies that have been required to make cuts do not report directly to the Governor (e.g. higher education, the judiciary, the legislature, and the Attorney General's office), so the job losses cannot be estimated in this proposal.

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