|NUMBER 311||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||DECEMBER 2011|
|Colorado Cuts Education Funding, Rejects Union Sneak Attack|
Colorado voters recently rejected a $2.9 billion income and sales tax increase ostensibly designed to compensate for ongoing cuts in education funding. Proposition 103 would have temporarily raised Colorado's sales tax to 3% from 2.9%, and would have raised the income tax rate to 5% from 4.63%. The new funds would have been earmarked for K-12 and college education, which make up over 40% of the state's general fund budget despite a series of ongoing budget cuts.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's 2012 budget proposal reduces education spending by $89 million for K-12 schools and another $60 million for public colleges to make way for huge increases in state Medicaid spending. Medicaid enrollment in Colorado has gone up about 72% in the past six years, while general fund revenue is still low compared to pre-recession numbers. Medicaid spending accounts for $185.6 million of the $227.1 increase in the 2012 Colorado general fund.
Henry Sobanet, the governor's budget director, says the increased Medicaid spending is inevitable: "The weak economy means more people qualify for this program. It's a federal entitlement, and so people show up for the program, we are obligated to pay those bills."
Schools and higher education have been prime targets for budget cuts in recent years because they take up such a large percentage of general fund. Tuition at public colleges has increased, and some schools have had to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, and operate on a four-day-a-week schedule.