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Colorado's budget shortfall grows

Creative Commons/Flickr/Pictures of Money

The latest economic forecast shows state lawmakers will need to close a budget gap that’s close to $700 million this session.

Economists say Colorado’s urban core is healthy, and that the oil and gas industry has slightly rebounded – but overall, the economic growth is not enough to keep pace with some of the state’s expenses in healthcare, education and other programs.

“The gap just became bigger…making it even more difficult for us to present a budget that’s in balance what the people of Colorado need,” said joint budget committee member Democrat Representative Millie Hamner of Dillon. Her Republican colleague, Bob Rankin of Carbondale, said filling the budget gap will require tough decisions.

“What do we do with marijuana money? How much severance taxes do we use? Do we do something with the senior property tax exemption? How much of the reserves do we use?” Bob Rankin asked.

And while lawmakers expect to dip into Colorado’s reserves, that makes Republican Senator Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, who is the newest member of the committee, nervous.

“When we’re looking at shortfalls we’ve got to wrestle with still, I do find it ironic that we carry ourselves to the bleeding edge each year,” Lundberg said.

Balancing the budget is the only thing that’s required of lawmakers during their annual session, which ends in May.