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Gov. Jared Polis signs biggest state budget in history

Gov. Jared Polis speaks on the west steps of the state Capitol on Monday.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
Gov. Jared Polis speaks on the west steps of the state Capitol on Monday.

Saying Colorado is in the best financial shape it’s ever been in, Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed a record high $36 billion spending plan that includes the largest ever investment in public schools.

Polis says this year’s 9% boost in public education funding will be sustainable over the next few years “no matter what happens with the economy.”

“That’s really important because the expenses of schools, teacher salaries, programs, it’s hard to gear them up and then cut them,” he said. “We want to have a solid base, for smaller class sizes, better teacher pay.”

The bill signing ceremony in the governor’s mansion Monday evening marked a major turning point for the state.

Less than two years ago, Polis was signing what he called the most difficult budget in state history. It included more than $3 billion in cuts, with public schools losing more than $500 million.

But on Monday, Polis said the record investments are possible this year because Colorado is experiencing one of the best economic recoveries in the nation.

“We’ve recovered more than 100% of the jobs we lost in the pandemic,” Polis said at the signing ceremony. “And as a result, there are a lot of funds coming in.”

The budget also includes funding for several new initiatives, including the ongoing efforts to reintroduce gray wolves and the rollout of free preschool classes starting next year.

The new program will offer 10 hours per week of free preschool for all children the year before they start kindergarten. Funding for the initiative is coming from a new tax voters approved tw

Most Republicans voted against the latest budget, saying the government was growing too quickly and Democrats were proposing new programs that would not survive another economic downturn.

“What happens in the days when we’re not flush?” House minority leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, asked before he voted against the budget this month.

State Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, helped write this year’s budget and was one of the only Republicans supporting it.

“This budget is, hopefully we can get back to normal, whatever that is,” he said at the signing ceremony on Monday.

Rankin said this was the third year of “historic” budgets and the process has been so interesting he joked he should write a book about it.

He also said lawmakers who wrote the budget this year gave a lot of consideration to Coloradans living in rural areas. He specifically praised new investments in wildfire prevention.

In addition to the annual budget, Colorado is expected to spend more than $1 billion in funds it got from the American Rescue Plan on affordable housing and mental health programs.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.