State workers expect pay raise as debate begins on next year’s budget

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Members of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee meet with state economists last week.

DENVER — State workers are expecting to get their first pay raise in four years as part of the state budget for 2013-14, which will be officially introduced in the state Senate Monday afternoon.

This legislative session’s budget battle isn’t likely to be as difficult or divisive as the last two years, when split control of the Capitol’s two chambers, coupled with a dreary revenue forecast, led to tough decisions and charged political battles about the state’s spending priorities.

This year Democrats control both the state House and Senate, along with the governor’s mansion, and will be able to pass the budget it wants. In addition, they’ve got a lot more money in the bank, with next year’s general fund anticipated to be roughly $1 billion higher than the current fiscal year’s thanks to an increasingly optimistic revenue forecast.

With that improved revenue forecast for 2012 and beyond, state employees are counting on a 2 percent across-the-board raise plus additional incentives for high-performing workers.

And as the state’s prison population declines, they are also asking the state to prioritize public facilities and close for-profit prison beds.

Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, sits on the six-member Joint Budget Committee that has spent the last several months putting together the budget proposal that lawmakers will debate over the next several weeks.

Because the committee’s votes on the proposal must be unanimous, Lambert has signed off on the budget itself. But he’s also planning to argue and vote against it on principle.

“How anyone could protest a 2% raise after four years of pay cuts is unimaginable,” said Scott Wasserman, the executive director of ColoradoWINS, the unions representing state workers.

“Can’t we have just one budget year in which public services and those who provide them are not used as a straw man for a partisan agenda?”

Called the “long bill”, the budget legislation is 272 pages long; READ it by clicking here.

The state’s improving revenue situation means major increases in general fund spending on health care ($175 million increase), K-12 education ($84 million increase), college funding ($39 million increase), transportation ($79 million increase), and human services ($66 million increase).

Much of the new spending within the Dept. of Human Services will be aimed at improving the state’s child welfare system and expanding and improving mental health services, a suddenly urgent priority following a string of mass shootings over the last several months.

The budget also aims to increase the state’s reserve by 25 percent.