Unemployment is down, but lawmakers will still struggle to pay for basic services and much-needed infrastructure improvements, including patching up crumbling roads and bridges.
Here are five top takeaways:
1. Things are pretty good. Unemployment, at 4.2 percent this January, is less than half what it was in 2010. The state added nearly 80,000 jobs last year. Most of the job growth comes from Front Range startup activity and the oil and gas boom in Greeley (worth noting that the gas-patch jobs, and the tax revenue generated from oil and gas, could both be thinned by lower gas prices).
2. Even though more money is coming in, lawmakers might actually have less money to spend because of refunds required to be sent back to the public under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. “Lawmakers are going to have to continue to talk about tough funding choices, including cuts, going forward,” remarked Tim Hoover of the Colorado Fiscal Institute.
3. Barring an economic apocalypse, taxpayers can expect a TABOR refund check — it’ll be under $100 and will vary by income. The exact figure is hard to pin down. Natalie Mullis, chief legislative economist, said any dollar of error, anywhere in the forecast, essentially means a dollar more or less in TABOR refunds.
4. Lawmakers have $49 million to spend on new bills. There’s already jockeying for preferred bills, with particular focus on creating a felony for repeat DUIs.
5. The funding picture for transportation is bad, really bad. In fact, the increase in overall revenue actually means a decrease in transportation funding … as in zero dollars. Enjoy the commute everyone!
*BONUS: Lawmakers plan to ask taxpayers (who have already said ‘yes’ — twice) if they really truly can keep a projected $58 million in marijuana tax cash.