Last week, the House debated the state budget, which is known in the Capitol as the “long bill.” This bill funds the state government for fiscal year 2014-15. Unlike the federal government, which may run a deficit, the state must have a balanced budget. Republicans and Democrats convened their respective caucuses to discuss all the components of the “long bill.”
We also met in caucuses Thursday morning to discuss proposed amendments, and we met on the House floor that afternoon to debate those amendments. After more than nine hours of discussion, we passed the budget Friday. We heard a number of bills to increase the general-fund reserve, provide funding to handle brownfield sites, move the state toxicology laboratory to the Department of Public Safety and transfer money for capital construction.
One concern that has been raised by many of my constituents is construction funding for Berndt Hall on the Fort Lewis College campus. For those of you are who are not familiar with this issue, the Capital Development Committee and governor’s office released a list of funding priorities for the next fiscal year. While those two lists were largely the same, there were some discrepancies regarding which higher-education, capital construction projects should be funded. I was initially discouraged when the Joint Budget Committee accepted the recommendations of governor over the recommendations of the CDC. I found this alarming because rural colleges desperately need funding to maintain their campuses. I was encouraged by an amendment from Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, to address the funding discrepancies between the aforementioned lists. This amendment will place capital construction projects, which were not provided funding in the capital construction bill, on a list to be funded with any available excess money after the budget is balanced. I support this amendment because it provides full capital construction funding, which will make FLC a priority, while balancing the state budget.
As part of the budget, we passed House Bill 1337, which increases the general-fund reserve. It increases the reserve by more than $130 million and puts 6.5 percent of the budget into savings. This reserve is critical to providing funding to counteract any economic downturns or respond to natural disasters. It will guarantee the state can continue to be fiscally responsible even during difficult times.
Our economic package continues to make its way through the Legislature. We are expanding the advanced industries program by an additional $5 million. This legislation provides grants to support businesses that are part of advanced industries in Colorado. We also increased funding for procurement technical-assistance centers by $220,000 to help companies handle bidding for federal and state contracts. We expanded funding for workforce development programs by $482,464. This will allow the Department of Labor and Employment to provide services such as job search assistance, skills training and courses to help job seekers improve their résumés and interviewing skills.
A major priority this session has been recovery and mitigation from the past year’s devastating floods and fires. To respond, $144 million will be provided for disaster recovery funding across the state. We also are increasing funding for wildfire and disaster recovery by investing $8.5 million in the Wildfire Preparedness Fund and almost $16 million in the Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
This year, we are also making the largest funding increase into K-12 and higher education in more than a decade. We are allocating $100 million to reduce the negative factor and increase funding by $400 per child. Higher-education institutions, such as universities and colleges, will receive an additional $100 million this year. By increasing funding for education across Colorado, we are ensuring our students will be able to compete in the 21st-century economy. It is estimated that by 2018, 67 percent of all jobs in Colorado will require a college degree or certificate.
I would like thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their hard work this week. I greatly appreciated the insightful comments, amendments and passion provided by everyone during the budget process.
McLachlan represents House District 59 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan, Ouray and Hinsdale counties and part of Gunnison County. Call McLachlan at (303) 866-2914 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.