Lawmakers Begin Debate On Shrinking State Budget

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Denver (AP) Lawmakers have opened debate on the state's proposed new budget of $17.6 billion dollars in the face of anticipated cutbacks for the second time in four years.

Lawmakers are promising to protect funding for public education and health care for children despite a a projected shortfall of nearly $700 million dollars over the next five years.

Republicans say they want to make sure taxpayers aren't stuck with higher fees and taxes while struggling financially. They've criticized a plan by the Ritter administration to add about 13-hundred more state workers for computer services and other expanded programs.

The positions include 21 new oil and gas drilling inspectors.

Democrats are defending the decision to hire more state employees. They say many of those jobs involve contract workers hired by the previous administration who were actually full-time workers the state needed to do those jobs.