Colorado will finish out the current fiscal year with an estimated $26 million more than thought and have up to $149 million more to spend in the 2012-13 fiscal year that starts in July, a development already spurring increased debate about relieving cuts to education and restoring -- even partially -- a property tax break for seniors.

The $149 million projection comes from Gov. John Hickenlooper's Office of State Planning and Budgeting, which, along with legislative economists, released a quarterly economic forecast today.

"There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about the direction of Colorado's economy," Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said. "We look forward to working with the Joint Budget Committee to proportionally restore some of the difficult cuts we already proposed in the budget. That means taking care of our state's neediest seniors, supporting local governments and doing all we can to fund K-12 and higher education to their fullest potential."

The Senior Homestead Exemption exempts 50 percent of the first $200,000 of a home's assessed value. To get the benefit, a senior must be 65 years or older and have lived in their home for the last 10 years.

The state is on the hook to pay counties for the property tax loss they see as a result of the tax break, a sum that costs the state about $100 million.


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Though voters approved the tax break in 2000, the amendment also allows the legislature to suspend the tax break if they like, which lawmakers have done in all but four years since it was passed.

Hickenlooper and Democratic lawmakers have proposed that the tax break be suspended once again in the 2012-13 fiscal year that begins in July. The governor instead has proposed targeting relief to poor seniors by adding $9.5 million to an existing program that rebates property taxes paid, either directly or through rent, and for heating costs paid by low-income Coloradans ages 65 and older or surviving spouses ages 58 and older.

The new money for the program would more than double its current funding.

However, Republicans, who control the House, say seniors should get the tax break and have not indicated they will change that position.

Tim Hoover: 303-954-1626 or thoover@denverpost.com