Gov. Hickenlooper signs $25B Colorado budget, which includes money for surplus tax refunds

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DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Colorado's $25 billion budget on Friday, a spending plan that sends more money to schools, transportation infrastructure and refunds to taxpayers because the state is collecting more money than it can keep.

"We saw again today the ability once again in Colorado to be able to work in a bipartisan, constructive manner to set priorities, to achieve common goals," the Democratic governor said, praising lawmakers who joined him in his office for the signing.

Despite split control of the state Legislature with Republicans ruling the Senate and Democrats the House, only 22 out of 100 lawmakers opposed the budget.

The refunds are required by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights — known as TABOR — when the state's revenue exceeds the rate of population growth and inflation. Refunds are a sign of the state's improving economy, and nearly $70 million is budgeted for the rebates next year when people file taxes. Another $117 million is budgeted for refunds the following year.

The first refunds will average between $15 and $47 for individuals, and between $30 and $94 for joint returns, depending on income.

The majority of the $25 billion includes federal money over which lawmakers have little control. Included in the overall budget figure is $9.6 billion in tax revenue that lawmakers oversee.

Most of the funding in the budget goes to schools, health care and prisons.

Public schools alone are getting nearly $9 billion in state and federal funds. General fund spending for schools is increasing by about $200 million from the previous year.

Public colleges are getting nearly $857 million in general fund dollars, about $100 million more than last year.

Health Care Policy and Financing, which oversees Medicaid, will receive $2.5 billion in general fund spending and nearly $8.9 billion in federal dollars.

Transportation is also benefiting from increased tax collections. For the first time since 2008, lawmakers are using state general fund dollars for infrastructure projects, to the tune of nearly $103 million.

Next year's budget is expected to be tighter, though, as the state runs up against spending restrictions in TABOR.

Hickenlooper wants to reclassify what is called the hospital provider fee, a charge to facilities that the state uses to get a federal match to help pay for more Medicaid patients.

Currently, the revenue collected from those fees does not go into the general fund, but it still creates a refund liability that the general fund must pay for, potentially at the expense of other budget areas.

Reclassifying the fee would eliminate the TABOR refunds that are anticipated three years from now so the money could be used for other things.


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