Hickenlooper budget could eliminate thousands of jobs

The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute Monday released a study showing that the budget proposed by Governor John Hickenlooper could eliminate about 3600 Colorado jobs.

Most of the lost jobs would be in education, the report claims, but it says there will also be lost jobs in mental health, prisons, health care and parks.

From the study:

The budget-balancing plan offered by Gov. John Hickenlooper last month relies heavily on cuts to public schools and will result in the loss of more than 3,600 jobs as services in education, mental health, prisons, health care and parks are scaled back. Most of the lost jobs will come out of classrooms and schools throughout the state as school districts cope with a nearly $500 decline in spending per student.

The governor’s proposal would eliminate 263 state jobs, most from closing a state prison and shutting down programs in mental health facilities. An analysis by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute estimates the governor’s proposed cuts to public schools would eliminate another 3,348 jobs. The total job loss as a result of the governor’s proposed cuts would equal 3,611 educators and state employees in communities throughout the state.

The governor offered smaller, yet still damaging, cuts to health care. Hickenlooper’s plan would cut $79.4 million from the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing during this year and next. The largest health care cut comes from Medicaid in 2011-12. The governor proposed cutting $28.8 million in 2011-12, of which $13.2 million would come from the General Fund. The most significant cut in Medicaid would be trimming provider rates by 0.5 percent to save $12.3 million, which includes reducing General Fund spending by $5.6 million. If that provider rate cut is approved by the legislature it would mean provider rates have been decreased 5.89 percent since the start of the recession. Rate reductions can discourage doctors and nurses from working with Medicaid patients because they get paid more to see patients with private insurance. Each provider rate reduction reduces access to quality health care for Medicaid patients — many of whom are children in low-income homes.

(The budget would)
* Shut down a program at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo called The Circle that treats the mentally ill who are also alcoholics or drug addicts. Twenty-eight jobs would be eliminated to save $2.2 million ($1.5 million in General Fund). The program accommodates 20 people at a time, treated 113 people in 2009-10 and currently has a waiting list of 35 people.

* Close a program a program that serves mentally ill children at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan. Shutting down the Therapeutic Residential Child Care Facility would eliminate 27 jobs and save $1.7 million ($0.8 million General Fund).

Hickenlooper spokesperson Eric Brown said the actual number of teachers cut would be up to the individual districts. The study’s authors said they estimated the number of lost education jobs on the low side, assuming school districts would do everything they could to make cuts that preserved as many jobs as possible.

“We recognize there will be some impact from this budget,” Brown said. “Everything about this budget is painful.”

The study concludes that there is little the Legislature can do, but that Colorado voters ought to consider pushing for a tax increase.

The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute is an offshoot of The Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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