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Colorado’s Economic Outlook for 2013 Still Strong

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State economists were in an optimistic mood Thursday. It’s a mood the even non-economists can share; Colorado’s economy is performing better than the rest of the nation.

The immediate result is lawmakers will have more money to spend in next year’s budget than originally anticipated. The Governor’s office is coming up with proposals on how to spend the roughly $150 million additional dollars.

“We’ll probably add to our K-12 and higher education request, public health and safety issues in addition to mental health, other infrastructure things and economic development,” said Governor Hickenlooper’s budget director Henry Sobanet.

Those ideas will be the starting point of budget talks. It’s ultimately up to state lawmakers to craft and approve the final budget.

“Everyone always thinks if you have more money it’s actually easier, but I argue it’s harder because we don’t have enough money to restore all the cuts that have been made over the last couple of years,” said Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino.

“And everyone sees that money and they want that money for what they see as the most important thing,”

This is the first time in years that lawmakers are able to begin restoring programs that were cut during the recession.

“It’s not a surplus, it’s the money you have available to increase spending. It’s not a surplus because it hasn’t been adjusted for inflation or other legislative priorities,” said Natalie Mullis, the legislature’s non-partisan Chief Economist.

Mullis says the state’s economy is poised for a strong recovery next year. That means people will have more cash to spend, the housing market should improve, and jobs and wages will be higher. She also says rural Colorado is performing well.

Colorado is not out of the financial woods yet. Both Mullis and budget director Henry Sobanet note that that the European debt crisis is slowing overall recovery and going over the fiscal cliff would plunge the state into recession.

Sobanet says the March revenue forecast will paint a clearer picture. It’ll be the last economic snapshot before lawmakers write and approve next year’s budget.

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