Governor’s proposed budget includes good news for higher education

Increase of $107 million in 2015-16 would help CU, other institutions
By Staff

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday delivered to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) the FY 2015-16 proposed budget, which includes continued strong support for higher education.

The proposed budget is $26.8 billion, of which $10.3 billion is from the General Fund. Relative to the expected FY 2014-15 appropriation, the amounts represent increases of $1.746 billion (7 percent) in total funds and $908.4 million (9.6 percent) in the General Fund.

The budget includes $107.1 million, or 14.1 percent, in additional funding for higher education, including $30 million for the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative.

CU President Bruce Benson commended the governor for the budget proposal.

“Gov. Hickenlooper’s budget request of more than $100 million for higher education demonstrates a deep commitment to Colorado students and families, as well to the importance of higher education as an economic driver for our state. We appreciate and share that commitment,” Benson said. “The governor, lieutenant governor and Legislature stood up for higher education last year and the governor is now laying the groundwork toward restoring cuts higher education took during the recession.”

Benson noted that CU’s portion of the additional funding is not yet known because of the new funding distribution formula being developed as stipulated by HB 1319. “But that allocation will have a significant impact on CU’s tuition rates next year,” Benson said.

“The request also includes critical funding to complete construction projects on our Colorado Springs and Boulder campuses that will enhance educational opportunities through state-of-the-art facilities and help our students be more competitive in today’s job market,” Benson said.

Selected details of Gov. Hickenlooper’s budget request:

  • A 10 percent operating increase for higher education totaling $60.6 million;
  • An additional $15 million to help offset the impact of implementation of HB 1319 (for a total operating increase of $75.6 million);
  • $30 million for the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Fund, a fund created last year. Institutions must apply to access funds, which are awarded based on the quality of the proposals submitted by institutions.
  • Continuation construction costs for the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building in Boulder ($20.2 million) and the Visual and Performing Arts building in Colorado Springs ($9.6 million).

Said Benson, “While the long-term outlook for state funding for higher education in Colorado remains challenging, today we are grateful for the governor's commitment.”

Hickenlooper won re-election on Tuesday, the day after the announcement of the proposed budget, which is required by state law. The budget also allocates substantially increased funding for K-12 education (some on a one-time basis) and secures funding to complete construction projects already underway.

In FY 2015-16, for the first time since FY 2007-08, the General Fund will provide additional funding for transportation per the provisions of SB 09-228. The budget allocates $102.6 million under the statute’s formulas.

“Colorado’s economic activity continues to outperform the national expansion,” Hickenlooper said. “Total employment and personal income have steadily increased for several years running. The state’s unemployment rate stands at 4.7 percent, the lowest since 2008.  Looking ahead, the most likely scenario is for the momentum to continue at a steady pace.”

The proposed budget also accounts for two rebates required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) of $167.2 million, assuming current law and the September forecast by the Office of State Planning and Budget. These include $30.5 million in the current fiscal year for new marijuana taxes. Total state revenue is higher than projected in the election blue book for 2013’s Proposition AA. Because the estimate was low, under TABOR, the state must refund the money being collected or ask voters again to keep it. Meanwhile, current revenue projections indicate a $136.6 million refund for revenue above the Referendum C cap in FY 2015-16. If they materialize, these rebates would go out under existing formulas via tax credits or sales tax refunds when people file their 2016 taxes.

As it relates to the marijuana rebate, Hickenlooper said, “It will be important to engage the legislature when session begins on the issue of marijuana rebates, and at this time, it would be unwise for the state to plan to spend any of those funds in advance of that discussion.”