Since this is my second year in the legislature, I know things are busy at the end of session and this year the calendar has been packed.
The month of April in the legislature is much like the weather in Colorado, unpredictable and wild. We have a heavy workload of bills to get through which will help people across Colorado, but perhaps the most important bill we took up during April was our budget bill. The “long bill” as it is known to those around the Capitol is the budget for the entire state of Colorado. This year’s budget reflects what Colorado needs right now: historic investments in education, helping impacted counties and individuals in need by providing funds for flood and wildfire recovery, and finally, ensuring Pueblo gets its fair share.
This year’s budget is responsible and more importantly, balanced. Unlike the federal government, Colorado will never be in the red because our constitution requires our budget to be balanced. We not only passed a balanced budget but also increased our state’s reserve by over $130 million without raising taxes. I am proud to have voted in support of this responsible approach. Below are some of the specific programs funded in this year’s budget. The Capital Development Committee fought to prioritize higher education capital construction funding in 2014. Working closely with Vice-Chairman Representative Vigil, we made sure Southern Colorado will invest in its future by investing in education. Education took a large hit across the board in 2008 and with our economy up and running again, I believe it is important to restore construction funding for universities to pre-recession levels. Many of the Southern Colorado colleges which we represent are eager to start construction projects that will contribute to better educational environment for students, and I’m pleased that our recommendations to the JBC will help make these projects a reality.
COLORADO PRIORITIES IN OUR BUDGET
While we’re tackling many difficult issues this year, the most important one for me is jobs. Until every Coloradan who wants a job can find one, we will be focused on doing everything we can to accelerate economic growth. Colorado’s recent job numbers and economic forecast are promising and show that we are well on the way to economic recovery. The Department of Labor just released numbers showing we have had 29 straight months of job growth in Colorado. We have implemented economic development programs that are designed to boost key industries, created jobs in the short term and have been committed to building a strong, resilient economy over the long term. My Economic Gardening program, which is helping Colorado’s small businesses grow by providing strategic assistance, will get $100,000 in funding in this year’s budget. These small businesses are vital to local and regional economies across Colorado and Pueblo. Small business is the backbone of our community. We are investing in
people by increasing funding for workforce development programs. The Department of Labor and Employment offers many services for those looking to find a job, such as job search assistance, skills training, and classes to help job seekers improve their resumes and interview skills. These programs will get an additional $482,464 this year.
FLOOD AND WILDFIRE RECOVERY
Last year saw historic floods and fires throughout our state. In order to be better prepared for these disasters, we have invested $8.5 million into the Wildfire Preparedness Fund. We also invested $16 million in the Division of Fire Prevention & Control, which will help the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control by giving them more ability to prevent, manage and respond to fires. In response to last September’s floods we committed $144 million to the Disaster Recovery Fund. The destruction that occurred in many areas across our state was devastating and this money will help these communities recover. All of this funding for flood and wildfire recovery was proposed by the bipartisan Flood Disaster Recovery Study Committee and the Wildfire Matters Review Committee. I am proud to support these measures.
EDUCATION: INVESTING IN OUR FUTURE
Education is one of the most important cornerstones of our state and investing in our future is the key to a better Colorado. With our economy continuing to recover we have created a budget that will significantly increase funding for our schools and boost our investment in Colorado’s kids and classrooms. Education was a top priority in this year’s budget. We set aside $230.8 million for the Student Success Act, which will improve funding tremendously for K-12 and implement important educational reforms. Additionally, through SB14-001, which I am proudly sponsoring, we have invested $100 million in higher education, which will help students across Colorado. SB14-001 will also make college more affordable by lowering the rate at which tuition can be raised from 9% to 6%. By 2018 a college degree or certificate will be required for 67% of all Colorado jobs. These investments into our education system will help students across Colorado succeed in the classroom and be prepared to enter the workforce.
All in all, it’s a responsible, balanced budget that focuses our resources on proven programs to support job creation, education, and public safety.