(Dec. 21) – Colorado’s state government will head into 2016 with a budget shortfall, the legislature’s chief staff economist predicted today.

Presenting her final quarterly economic and revenue forecast of 2015, Natalie Mullis, chief economist for the Legislative Council, told the Joint Budget Committee this morning that the general fund shortfall for the current 2015-16 budget year would be slightly better than was forecast in September but will still require a $208 million withdrawal from the state’s reserve fund that will have to be paid back.

Mullis predicted that TABOR refunds to taxpayers will not be required for the current budget year, but over the ensuing two years will total more than $575 million. That money would otherwise go to our public education and transportation systems and other services to the people of Colorado.

She also estimated that rising property values in Colorado would increase tax revenues for local school districts across the state, creating an opportunity to increase overall school funding by $159 million if state support for K-12 districts is maintained at existing levels.

“We could increase funding to our K-12 schools, but we’d have to find other ways to rebalance the budget,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee. “There are plenty of rocks and hard places that we’re forced to choose between because of conflicting mandates in our constitution.”

“There’s a chance we’ll catch a break on the March 2015 forecast, which is the one we’ll use to write the 2016-17 budget,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, who also sits on the JBC. “But Colorado schools are hurting right now, services to people with developmental disabilities are being delayed right now, and our infrastructure is crumbling right now. We need to get serious about fixing this budgetary mess or we need to get serious about explaining to our constituents why we’re slashing critical funding in an economic upturn.”

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