Colorado’s budget is nearly $4 billion bigger than last year. Here’s how the state will likely spend your money

The first thing to know about the proposed budget for Colorado’s 2021-22 fiscal year is that it’s a whole lot bigger than anyone at the Statehouse had planned for. At $34.1 billion, it’s close to $4 billion fatter than what the state is spending in the current fiscal year.

The budget, which will take effect July 1, has been workshopped for five months by the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee and began wending its way through the Statehouse this week. On Thursday, the Senate weighed — and mostly rejected — dozens of amendments. It’ll pass the Senate on Friday and head to the House next week, then eventually to the governor’s desk.

Here’s a look at some of the most significant spending proposals in this year’s budget (the figures are subject to change in the coming days), which pays for every state department, and then some.

Department of Health Care Policy and Financing: $13.2 billion

This agency gets the biggest chunk of the budget every year, by far, as it houses Medicaid administration. Usually, Colorado splits the costs for the health care program that serves low-income adults with the federal government, but this year D.C. is kicking in a bit more — 56.2%.

Department of Education: $5.8 billion

The K-12 agency sees the most discretionary spending (that is, from the general fund) in the state. Between a $480 million contribution from the legislature and another $1 billion-plus coming from the Biden administration, lawmakers are planning for more per-pupil spending than they’ve been able to afford in a decade. The Senate also passed a bipartisan amendment to provide an extra 7% ($424) per student for those with the highest needs, such as blindness or traumatic brain injury.

Department of Higher Education: $5.05 billion

State-run colleges and universities were cut by a whopping 58% last year, though federal pandemic money offset that somewhat. But Colorado can’t count on that federal money to keep the higher education system afloat forever, so the budget proposes not only to restore last year’s cuts but also add another $100 million for first-generation students and those from underrepresented communities.

Department of Human Services: $2.4 billion

Among the significant spending increases planned for this agency: $910,000 for behavioral health services for children in crisis, $1 million for outreach to people eligible for federal food benefits and $2 million for school lunch funding.

Department of Transportation: $1.2 billion

Unlike nearly every other state agency, transportation’s budget is set to shrink next year by about 4% or $86 million. One reason for that: People didn’t drive as much in the past year, which means they also didn’t pay gas taxes and tolls as often — which means less money came into the state.

Republicans would like to see transportation projects get more funding in budget, and have argued that the amount of money Democrats are planning to set aside for reserves — 13.5%, unprecedented in recent Colorado history — is excessive. It should be noted that the Biden administration and a different state stimulus package will provide millions for shovel-ready transportation projects, and the legislature also is considering what would be a landmark transportation funding package.

Department of Corrections: $959 million

The state’s prison population is smaller than it was pre-COVID, and every prisoner costs the state about $80 to $140 a day. So you’d think that a smaller population brings major savings and a need for fewer correctional officers.

But the agency’s budget is still proposed to grow by about 1% because it has more employees than any other state agency, and lawmakers are planning an across-the-board 3% raise for state employees.

Judicial Department: $849 million

Of the roughly $34 million bump the agency is slated to receive, about a quarter will go toward a massive hiring and rehiring spree to build back a workforce largely eliminated when many court and probation positions were rendered needless by COVID closures.

Department of Public Health and Environment: $623 million

No one will be surprised by one major proposed spending bump for this agency, which has been crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic: about $100 million for disease control and prevention, including some support for vaccines.

Department of Public Safety: $528 million

The agency’s funding is set to grow by $19 million overall, with a $13.2 million bump for wildfire prevention in a year that experts say will be bad again for wildfires. This adds new firefighting aircraft and personnel, and sets aside more state money to help affected communities. Also in this agency’s budget: a proposed $6 million appropriation for body cameras for police, which was bumped up by $3 million in Senate negotiations by a Republican amendment.

Department of Labor and Employment: $289 million

One small but notable line-item in this agency’s budget: $208,273 for staffing to begin implementation of the state Just Transition Office, which is meant to assist people working in coal with getting new jobs. Rural lawmakers have long complained that the state created this initiative in 2019 without a plan to put serious money — that is, millions, not thousands — toward it.

Money for other state agencies 

  • Department of Agriculture: $58.9 million
  • Office of the Governor: $365 million
  • Department of Labor and Employment: $289 million
  • Department of Law: $98.1 million
  • Legislative Department: $5.58 million
  • Department of Local Affairs: $312 million
  • Department of Military and Veteran Affairs: $139 million
  • Department of Natural Resources: $318 million
  • Department of Personnel: $216 million
  • Department of Regulatory Agencies: $121 million
  • Department of Revenue $424 million
  • Department of State: $32.7 million
  • Department of the Treasury: $841 million

Denver Post statehouse reporter Saja Hindi contributed to this report.

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