Priola says governor did the best he could with budget cuts

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By Steve Smith

DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter’s proposal to trim the state budget  by $318 million includes the elimination of 267 jobs and the closure of 59 beds at the Colorado Mental health Institute at Fort Logan and 32 more at a facility in Grand Junction.

    But it does not include any cuts in K-12 education thanks to Amendment 23, a constitutional requirement that forces the state to fund education at a particular level.

    Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, said the governor did what he thought was best.

    “I was glad to see that education was spared from any cuts and that higher education will be held harmless because of stimulus dollars,” Priola said. “I was disappointed that Medicaid provider rates were decreased again because that really makes it difficult for Medicaid patients to find doctors who are willing to serve them.” The cuts to Medicaid total $18.5 million.

    “I think he’s done an excellent job considering the state of the economy and its affect on our budget,” said state Sen. Mary Hodge. “He’s protected our most vulnerable populations and kept public health and safety related programs in place.”

    The governor also proposed more fee increases, such as one for background checks on gun sales. Those need to come before the Legislature for approval. Hodge said the Legislature also has to approve a cut in the fees for uncompensated care from private hospitals and the Colorado Indigent Care Program.

    “I think it’s a tough sell to increase fees during a recession, particularly when the governor already approved fee increases of more than $1 billion in the last legislative session,” Priola said. “That is more than $800 per Colorado family when many are struggling to keep their jobs and pay their bills.”

    The elimination of state jobs, though, does not need the approval of the Legislature.

    Even though the deficit shrank to $318 million, the state’s budget director, Todd Saliman, told reporters the budget was “the most pessimistic one.”

    “There are some hopeful signs, but we’re certainly not out of the woods yet,” Priola said. “The next economic forecast will be released at the end of September, and that will give us a better idea of what budget challenges will be in store for us.”

    Officials are estimating the state will lose between 52,000 and 85,000 jobs this year. Hodge said budget writers didn’t see a lot of relief coming any time soon.

    “Budget cuts are always difficult, but it’s important to remember that Colorado families have had to make many of these same difficult choices in their own budgets,” Priola said. “Government has to tighten its belt when revenue falls because the alternative is unacceptable. You cannot force these budget challenges onto already struggling families by increasing the cost of government.”

    Hodge said the news about the budget isn’t good.

    “They see no relief for next year,” she said.