DENVER - State senators on Wednesday quickly found ways to use money from the stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed in Denver just a day earlier.Majority-party Democrats voted to restore payments made to health-care providers who treat poor and disabled people. The money would come from higher Medicaid payments the federal government will make through 2010, thanks to the stimulus bill.
But Republicans argued the money should be saved in case things get even worse next year.
Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, successfully argued for several changes that preserve payments the state makes to doctors and caregivers. Morse also opened up spots in community programs for the developmentally disabled that the Joint Budget Committee - which writes the budget - was thinking about closing.
"We're not going to balance the budget by removing resources for the developmentally disabled," Morse said.
But Joint Budget Committee members and Republicans argued against Morse.
"Until we know for sure what will come in the door, I think it's a mistake to be spending out of that fund," said Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo.
Senators considered three dozen budget-balancing bills in Wednesday's debate. The bills face a final vote in the Senate today and votes in the House next week.
Republicans argued against a Joint Budget plan to draw down half the state's $300 million reserve to balance this year's budget. It would be better to use the stimulus money to rebuild the reserve in case things get bad next year, said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.
The stimulus is a one-time shot, he said.
"This money goes away, and when it does, there will be a hole in our budget," Penry said.
But Joint Budget Chairwoman Mo Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, told Penry he would have to find somewhere else to cut if he wanted to keep the whole $300 million reserve.
"We would have to do a big program. It would have to be a couple of community colleges we close this fiscal year. I'm not kidding," Keller said.
Wednesday's cuts affect the current year's budget, which runs through June. The Legislature will pass next year's budget later this spring.
Lawmakers don't have firm numbers on the Medicaid payments, but Keller said they are looking at an analysis of the stimulus bill by a lobbying group called the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The center says Colorado will get $880 million from the Medicaid match, parceled out over three budget years.
The overall budget, though, remains grim. The Senate's actions Wednesday basically rewrote the 2008-09 budget, slashing spending, raising fees and shifting money out of special funds to save about $600 million.