DENVER - Kindergarteners, college students, uninsured children and businesses will feel the first round of state budget cuts, which the Legislature finalized Wednesday.
The cuts and other accounting maneuvers will close a $600 million gap this budget year, which ends in June. More cuts are on the way later this spring for the 2009-10 budget.
The cuts rolled back many of the priorities Democrats have enacted since they took over the Legislature in 2006. They include:
•$34.5 million by not building classrooms for full-day kindergarten.
•$30 million from the Department of Higher Education.
•$3.1 million by not expanding the Children's Basic Health Plan to more families.
•$12.8 million by lowering payments the state makes to businesses for collecting sales taxes.
Most of the 35 budget-cutting bills were passed Wednesday by large bipartisan votes. Five were headed to a conference committee and one - a controversial plan to raise water well fees more than 500 percent - was sent to the House Agriculture Committee. A hearing on the water bill hasn't been scheduled yet.
Gov. Bill Ritter plans to sign most of the budget bills in the coming days, his spokesman said.
Some of the biggest controversy was not about the cuts themselves, but money transfers that helped the Legislature avoid even larger cuts. Lawmakers transferred $227 million from special accounts known as cash funds, which pay for dozens of specific programs ranging from unemployment insurance to courthouse security.
One of the biggest transfers was $30 million for water-project construction. Members of the Joint Budget Committee say the transfers take cash that wouldn't be used this year.
But several Republicans rebelled against the idea.
"That money was set aside for a specific use and a specific purpose, and by raiding these cash funds, it won't be there anymore," said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.
Democrats countered that the Legislature took much less from the cash funds this year than during the last recession, when the GOP was in charge.
A related fight among Democrats unfolded Tuesday and Wednesday over a bill to offer tax break to businesses that move to Colorado or expand here.
House Bill 1001 is a priority for Gov. Bill Ritter and a major change in Colorado's long-standing policy of not wooing out-of-state firms with tax breaks.
The bill by Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, would hand out $2.9 million in tax breaks this year.
"I think this bill will bring jobs that would not otherwise come to Colorado," Rice said.
The bill passed 52-13, but a dozen of Rice's fellow Democrats voted against it, including Jack Pommer of Boulder.
"If cutting taxes brought in new business, we wouldn't have room for them all," Pommer said.
This year's budget cuts are worse because the Legislature cut taxes early this decade, he said.
The rational options are to either raise taxes or permanently cut government programs to the tune of $1 billion - not to cut taxes, he said.
"We're trying to run a state designed to be operated with a billion dollars more revenue, and we don't have it," Pommer said.
HB 1001 now goes to the Senate.