Report: State retained $2.6 billion in last fiscal year from Referendum C

For the fiscal year that just ended, Colorado retained $2.6 billion through the 2005 Referendum C measure, and the fiscal year beginning in 2021 will see an estimated $617.7 million retained, according to a report from Legislative Council Staff.

Voters approved Referendum C more than a decade ago, which allowed Colorado to retain and spend revenue in excess of what the Taxpayer Bill of Rights allowed. The retention applied to all revenue for the first five years, and implemented a slowly increasing cap for subsequent fiscal years.

The law sets out the method of dividing revenues, with the first $125 million retained being obligated for specific categories of programs. In fiscal year 2019-2020, $60.1 million went to public schools; $60.1 million went toward healthcare; $4.3 million went to firefighter retirement plans; and half a million dollars was directed toward transportation.

Of the remaining $2.5 billion, $833.3 million apiece went toward K-12 schools, healthcare and higher education.

“The state would have faced a significant budget shortfall in FY 2005-06 and subsequent years had Referendum C not been approved,” Legislative Council Staff wrote in the Oct. 15 memorandum. “Therefore, a significant portion of the money retained and spent under Referendum C did not increase funding to programs, but rather maintained prior funding levels and prevented these programs from undergoing budget cuts.”

Of the estimated amount available for fiscal year 2021-2022, approximately $224 million will go toward K-12 education, with healthcare and higher education receiving $164.2 million.

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