DENVER – Allies of Fort Lewis College have devised a plan to rescue funding to rebuild the college’s outdated science building.
Until last week, FLC leaders thought they were sitting pretty as the state’s second-highest priority college construction project, as designated by the Legislature’s Capital Development Committee. The college has been pushing for more than a decade to rebuild its old engineering and geophysics building.
But the Joint Budget Committee shocked FLC officials and knocked the college and several others off the funding list, in favor of computer software upgrades and college projects in Denver and Colorado Springs that Gov. John Hickenlooper requested.
Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, announced a plan Wednesday to save FLC and other colleges. It hinges on the state having money left over after it balances its books for the 2013-14 budget year this summer.
Legislators say it’s likely that the state will have $100 million to devote to college construction projects around the state.
FLC would be first on a list that would also include Colorado State University, the University of Colorado, Denver’s Auraria campus and maintenance projects around the state.
“I think it’ll make everybody happy once we get that all done,” said House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder.
Other senior Democrats expressed their support for the idea, and Joint Budget Committee members signaled they wouldn’t fight Vigil’s plan at a meeting of House Democrats on Wednesday afternoon.
The House will debate the state government’s $23 billion budget this afternoon.
If Vigil’s bid doesn’t succeed, legislators will have an even better chance next week in the Senate.
Democratic Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge could be the crucial vote in the Senate, where Democrats hold just a one-vote majority. Last week, Jahn decried the JBC’s “arrogance” in rearranging the college construction priorities.
In a Wednesday interview, Jahn said she was waiting to see what the House does, but she was adamant that the colleges get their construction funding.
“It is absolutely imperative that we get more funding for higher-ed projects,” said Jahn.
Everyone has a different idea of what project is the most important, but the Capital Development Committee placed FLC near the top of the list, Jahn said.
“It was an absolute priority, and it cannot be ignored. It cannot be ignored,” she said.
Budget committee members have defended their choices, and said they passed a budget for the whole state.
However, construction projects are concentrated on the Front Range, from Pueblo to Denver.
Currently, the Western Slope has just three projects: $5 million for Western State in Gunnison, $4.6 million for a veterans cemetery in Grand Junction and less than $1 million for a veterans’ home in Rifle.
There are no new construction projects dedicated to the Eastern Plains, the San Luis Valley, Fort Collins or Greeley.
Other projects are intended to benefit the whole state, like software upgrades for the emergency radio system and the Division of Motor Vehicles. Legislators also intend to pay for $25 million in maintenance projects around the state.
The budget also includes annual payments for an earlier phase of Berndt Hall and several other colleges around Colorado, which legislators funded in 2008 with royalties from the Western Slope’s natural-gas boom.