DENVER - A controversial plan to repeal a cap on the state budget has passed its first test.
Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, wants to end a 1991 law that limits the state general fund to 6 percent growth per year. The general fund pays for most of the familiar functions of government such as health care and education.
Senate Bill 228 passed the Senate Finance Committee 4-3, with "yes" votes from all four Democrats, including Jim Isgar of Hesperus.
Republicans argued it's unconstitutional to pass the bill without a vote of the people. They also say it will slash funding for highways in the coming years.
"This is a highway robbery bill," said Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs.
Since 1997, the Legislature has devoted the money it has above the 6 percent limit to highways and building construction. Morse's bill would eliminate that practice and put transportation into competition with colleges and other programs that scramble for the general fund each year.
Morse said it's the Legislature's job to decide how to spend state resources.
"In my view, it's just wrong to hide behind arbitrary funding formulas written into statute long ago instead of making and being responsible for hard decisions every year," Morse said.
King argued that the 1992 Taxpayer's Bill of Rights requires a vote of the people on any law that changes state spending limits.
Morse, however, said the 6 percent law doesn't limit spending; it just says where the spending must occur.
Supporters who testified for SB 228 on Tuesday included advocates for education and the disabled, plus people from the Colorado Children's Campaign and Women's Foundation of Colorado.
A respected Republican who used to serve in the Legislature also spoke up for Morse's bill.
Brad Young of Lamar served on the Legislature's budget-writing committee, an experience that led him to think a 6 percent cap isn't the best way to limit government. It's better to find some way to keep government growing at the same pace as the economy, he said. As it is, lawmakers feel like they have to increase the budget 6 percent every year to avoid cuts in future years, he said.
"There was always this pressure to spend up to the 6 percent," Young said.
Only one witness spoke against the bill, Marty Neilsen of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers.
"Colorado need not go the way of California and spend itself into bankruptcy," she said.
The next stop for the bill is a debate of the full Senate.