- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

DENVER (AP) - Gov. John Hickenlooper signed next year’s Colorado budget on Wednesday, increasing dollars for schools and colleges, boosting the state’s rainy day fund, and spending money for a state-owned aerial fleet to try to spot wildfires sooner.

The budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is about $23 billion - a figure that includes federal dollars and fees. It’s an increase from the current budget, which is about $21 billion.

With improving tax revenues, lawmakers were able to increase funding for public schools to keep up with enrollment and inflation, raising per-student funding at public schools by more than $200 to $6,875. Public colleges and universities are getting an extra $100 million to limit tuition increases and help with financial aid.

The state’s general-fund budget reserves, which dipped to 2 percent during the recession, are increasing to 6.5 percent, so the fund stands at $576.4 million. Currently, the reserves are at 5 percent.

When it comes to making spending decisions, lawmakers control the general fund, which is made up of state tax revenue. That fund is about $8.7 billion of the $23 billion next year.

Other budget highlights:

- Lawmakers set aside nearly $20 million so the state can buy two spotter planes to try to detect fires within an hour after the first sighting of smoke. The money will also allow the state to contract four helicopters and four single-engine tankers. The state currently contracts two single-engine tankers.

- The budget also starts paying for a two-year technology project to try to reduce wait times for drivers’ licenses to 15 minutes.

- The spending plan also pays for an expansion of laboratory operations for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to test thousands of sexual-assault kits.

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