(June 20) – Colorado continues to experience solid economic growth, the state government’s leading economists told the Joint Budget Committee today.
“That Colorado has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and we are experiencing continued economic growth in part thanks to the work we’ve done over the last few years,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, who sits on the JBC. “We’ve worked together to help small businesses grow, to boost our growing tech industry, and to help Coloradans acquire the skills and training they need to get good-paying jobs – and now we’re seeing the rewards.”
May’s unemployment rate in Colorado was just 2.3 percent — the lowest rate in the nation and the lowest in Colorado since at least 1976.
Delivering their quarterly economic and revenue forecasts this morning, the legislature’s chief economist, Natalie Mullis, and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget director, Henry Sobanet, agreed that the economy is growing but not quite as quickly as forecast in March, meaning there is less revenue than expected for the state’s general fund. This will present challenges in maintaining the required reserve and meeting the needs of key priorities like K-12 schools and transportation.
The other big takeaway is that the budget will not hit the TABOR Ref C cap through the forecast period, FY 2018-2019. This is in large part thanks to the passage of SB17-267, which enterprised the hospital provider fee and provided relief from this additional budget crunch for several years.
“Last session, both sides of the aisle were able to come together, put ideology aside and come to a compromise on the challenging issue of the hospital provider fee,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, the incoming chairwoman of the JBC. “Now we need to carry that bipartisan problem-solving forward and figure out how to sustainably invest in providing the best education for our kids.”
“It’s frustrating that even during years of economic growth, we don’t fund our schools adequately, but fortunately we have a school finance task force that’s going to meet over the next several months to try to create a better way to support our classrooms,” continued Rep. Hamner, a key member of the task force.
The JBC members also highlighted some of the remaining challenges, including a persistent gap between economic growth rates along the Front Range and in other areas of the state, as well as a shortage of affordable housing in many areas of the state.
“Rural areas continue to experience lower job and income growth than communities along the Front Range and that’s a problem we are continuing to look for ways to address,” said Rep. Hamner. “We are committed to making sure families in all four corners of the state have the opportunity to succeed.”