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Politics and Government

Jared Polis doubles down in 2021 budget proposal with requests for big-ticket items

The Colorado governor’s budget proposal focuses on increasing the state’s reserve account and expanding the state’s preschool program

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks at a Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce event on May 10, 2019. (Photo by Evan Semón, provided by the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce)
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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis didn’t get everything he wanted in this year’s state budget, so he’s asking again.

The governor’s $32.4 billion budget request for the next fiscal year includes $28 million to expand the state’s preschool program and $10 million for a eight-week paid family leave program for state employees, as well as a $31 million set-aside to increase the state’s reserve account in case of an economic downturn.

He asked for all three items in his first budget request, but state lawmakers didn’t include any of them in the final $30.5 billion spending plan that took effect July 1. 

With his proposal’s release Friday, Polis said he is more optimistic lawmakers would prioritize the requests this year. “We want to use our political capital to push for increased reserve levels and paying back the so called one-time mechanism to fund the recession,” he told reporters in an interview. “Those are not always the most politically glamorous things to push for but they are fiscally prudent and sound.”

MORE: Here’s a guide to how the Colorado state budget works, and how much is spent

The administration’s spending plan is merely a request to Colorado lawmakers who begin meeting later this month to write the budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year. This year’s task is especially difficult because the state’s economic growth — and tax revenue — is slowing and the Democratic-led General Assembly spent big this year.

An initial estimate shows that legislation approved in the 2019 session will cost an additional $80 million to $100 million in the next fiscal year. 

One expensive item is a top Polis priority: reinsurance. The new health insurance program is credited with lowering costs, but it will need $30 million more than the current year, according to the governor’s office. The state’s new full-day kindergarten initiative also is projected to cost more than expected, but it remains unclear how much more.

All told, the governor’s proposal represents a 2.7% increase from the current budget with discretionary spending from the general fund rising 2.9%.

State Rep. Daneya Esgar, the incoming chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee, said lawmakers will consider Polis’ request — along with their own ideas. 

The Pueblo Democrat cautioned that the state may not have enough money to cover more big-ticket items. And she couldn’t say whether the governor’s priorities would get more support this year. “It’s really too early to talk about whether we like something or we don’t.”

State Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican budget writer from Carbondale, questioned whether Polis is allocating enough to cover the costs of the family leave program, which he’s not convinced the state needs. He’d rather see a greater focus on reducing the state’s debt to schools. “I think there are people on both sides of the aisle who have other priorities and we will sort that,” he said.


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