WSC to take a hit, which might mean we all take a hit
Colorado state representative Kathleen Curry came before the Crested Butte Town Council and painted a bleak picture of the state budget situation. In a work session on Monday, July 19, Curry said the budget “is a real mess at the state level and it will ultimately impact communities like this.”
Curry, the District 61 representative to the state house, explained she is trying to touch base with all 15 town councils in her district. Unfortunately, the message she has to deliver is not a good one. “We had a $10 billion budget when I first went to the statehouse and now it is $6 billion,” she said. “The state usually lags behind the economic trends, so even if things are turning around I expect at least another two years of this situation.”
Rep. Curry outlined how education, health care and corrections take up about 80 percent of the state budget. With only 20 percent of the budget at all discretionary, things have to be cut, and social services is one area that has been trimmed significantly and that affects local communities. “Plus $90 million has been cut from higher education,” said Curry. “Western State College will have to take a reduced contribution from the state and Western is a big economic driver in this valley. WSC may have to go from getting $10 million to getting $7 million and that will be felt in this valley.”
Overall Curry said projections indicate that the state budget might have to be cut another $50 million to $300 million this coming year. The following year could call for another $1 billion to be eliminated. “This cycle brings a higher need for services while the ability to pay is going down. It’s not pretty,” she said.
Curry, who resides in Gunnison, said that three issues on the ballot this fall could make the situation even more dire. Ballot questions 101, 60 and 61 could all make balancing the budget an extremely harsh task. They call for reductions in taxes and fees and put limits that affect long-term public construction and infrastructure projects. “Proposition 101 is particularly devious because it sounds so good to cut the income tax but it could take another billion dollars out of the budget. [Ballot questions] 60 and 61 will tie the hands of any government hoping to do infrastructure projects.”
Mayor Leah Williams said a meeting was being organized for July 29 in Gunnison to discuss the impact of the three issues. Curry said she would try to attend.
“The ballots go out in October so the more time we have to educate people on the impacts the better,” said Curry.
“If someone tells you we need to shrink government more, have them come talk to me,” she said. “I’ll tell them what we’ve done.”
Councilperson Jim Schmidt publicly thanked Rep. Curry for attempting to clear up the rafting vs. private property issue. “That rafting bill took an unbelievable amount of courage,” he said.
“I pretty much made everyone mad with it so I felt it was a good middle ground,” Curry said. “I’m disappointed it didn’t happen but I don’t expect it to completely go away.”
Curry said she had some concerns that lawmakers will look to open space funds, whether it is lottery money generated for the Great Outdoor Colorado (GOCO) programs or reductions in tax credits as a way to shift funds for the state budget woes.
The council all agreed things looked bleak but appreciated that Curry updated them on the state situation.