Coloradans’ eyes understandably pass over reports about legislators working on the annual state budget. After all, the “long bill” – so named because it spans nearly 500 pages – is a necessary but mind-numbing legislative drudgery, salted with indiscernible acronyms, and largely incomprehensible to anyone outside the State Capitol.
To most inside the State Capitol, the budget is a Very Big Deal – a $26 billion big deal. That’s nearly $5,000 for every Colorado resident. And that’s not table scraps!
While normal Coloradans go about living their lives, the spending lobby at the State Capitol is paying very close attention to the state budget. Incidentally, “spending lobby” need not be taken as a pejorative; it simply describes those paid to lobby lawmakers on behalf of agencies, organizations and individuals whose programs are funded with our tax dollars.
Consider some illuminating numbers that chart key developments in Colorado over the past eight years:
• State population has grown by 12 percent. Personal income is up 22 percent.
• Enrollment in K-12 public schools has increased by 10 percent, and general fund money spent on those public schools is also up 10 percent.
• The total state budget has grown by 45 percent, and general fund (which consists primarily of state income and sales tax receipts) spending is up 55 percent.
So, why isn’t school funding generally keeping pace with overall budget growth? Here’s the answer:
In those same eight years, spending on Medicaid and the Department of Health Care Policy and Finance is up 148 percent. Enrollment in Medicaid is up 196 percent.
No wonder public education and other budget priorities are getting squeezed.
In 2007-08, K-12 public education received 42 percent of state general fund budget. Health care and human services (HHS) were a distant second, receiving 28 percent.
In the budget now under consideration, HHS spending consumes almost as much of the general fund (35 percent) as education (37 percent).
For as long as anyone can remember, funding our public schools has been the largest expenditure of state tax receipts, and despite debates about how to make our schools better, that spending represents government looking forward – spending on tools for growth and opportunity.
For the past five years, general fund spending on HHS entitlements has grown by $1.2 billion while spending on public education has grown by just $118 million. That’s 10 times more growth for entitlements and their attendant bureaucracy than on schools.
When spending on entitlements overtakes spending on education, that’s a sign that our budget doesn’t reflect the people’s priorities.
Medicaid spending was growing rapidly before ObamaCare, which only made matters worse by requiring states to adopt more lenient eligibility criteria.
Medicaid historically focused resources on providing a health care safety net for those most in need of assistance – the elderly, disabled and children in low-income families. Eight years ago, these groups accounted for 83 percent of Medicaid enrollees.
ObamaCare forced states to open the floodgates to pay for health care for adults with no dependent children and for all adults whose income is as much as 33 percent above the federal poverty level.
In just the last eight years, the number of adults – excluding the elderly and disabled – enrolled in Medicaid has grown from 64,000 to 494,000. Projections estimate more than 600,000 in another two years.
Today, more than one in five Coloradans is enrolled in Medicaid; eight years ago, that ratio was just one in 12.
It’s bad enough that ObamaCare is wrecking our federal budget and piling trillions of dollars of debt on our children and grandchildren without their consent.
However, ObamaCare is just as pernicious to children in the state budget in the way it hoards money and resources that could otherwise be sent to classrooms.