DENVER – The $28.3 billion Colorado budget has cleared both chambers of the Legislature and will soon head back to its makers so they can consider the amendments applied by their fellow lawmakers.
It is unlikely that many of the amendments will stick because of the bipartisan makeup of the Joint Budget Committee that will reevaluate the budget, and the need for a majority vote to approve any changes.
That leaves schools facing a $48 million increase in their negative factor, but a $185 increase in per pupil funding; $264 million in federal funds taken away from hospitals, and only $79 million dedicated from the general fund to transportation, which has been listed as a priority for both parties.
Members of the JBC defended the budget and all the work that went into balancing it, based on the amount of revenue the state was allowed to retain under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
“We still have a lot of work to do, however, in this legislative session to really make this budget work,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon.
The GOP, however, disagreed and said the House was given a chance to improve the budget by focusing on the state’s priorities and had failed to do so. The discontent from the right was evident in the 38-27 party line vote that saw a single Republican, Rep. Bob Rankin, D-Glenwood Spring who sits on the JBC, vote for the budget.
Republican House leadership pointed out missed opportunities from multiple attempts to redirect funding from other departments to Colorado’s roads.
The attempts included increasing copays of prescription medications, freezing the budget increase for everything but K-12 education and reducing the state’s reserve fund. The measures would have generated an estimated $600 million for transportation and allowed Republicans to create the revenue neutral solution they have sought all session.
Another area of concern was that of “empire building” within the state’s government by continuing to increase budgets across the board.
“We can’t continue to let these department grow on autopilot year after year,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock. “If we do, we will end up with the same problems we have in Washington and we will continue to have to ask the taxpayers to pay more.”
Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, said there are issues with keeping departments at the same level of funding annually.
An example is in the Department of Higher Education, where stagnant funding would result in higher tuition rates for students, Young said.