DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a $27 billion state budget Tuesday, avoiding dire cuts that were proposed in November.
Lawmakers called the annual state spending plan “something to be proud of,” having performed fiscal gymnastics to avoid $373 million in cuts.
“This budget reflects that ability for people to work together,” Hickenlooper said.
Total funds in the so-called “Long Bill” are closer to $25.8 billion when considering double-counted cash. (Some cash is counted twice in a complicated formula because federal funds are re-appropriated.) Total spending is up about 1.3 percent over last year.
Budget writers included about $9.9 billion in general fund, or discretionary, spending, up nearly 5 percent over the current budget. That number is realistically closer to $8.7 billion when considering double-counted cash.
Schools were bracing for lawmakers to allow the gap in K-12 payments to grow by $50 million. But lawmakers were able to buy-down the so-called “negative factor” by more than $24 million.
Similarly, lawmakers averted a $20 million cut to higher education.
Budget writers also maintained the state’s 6.5 percent reserve.
But the Long Bill wasn’t all good news. Transportation saw a cut of $50 million from its anticipated $200 million of additional funding, and hospitals lost about $73 million.
All three of Southwest Colorado’s lawmakers, including Republican Reps. Don Coram of Montrose, J. Paul Brown of Ignacio and Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango, supported the budget.
Though it ultimately passed with bipartisan support – 39-26 in the House and 30-5 in the Senate – there was plenty of political wrangling, particularly over implementation of federal carbon standards.
Republicans sought to strip more than $8.4 million in funding for the Air Pollution Control Division, which is tasked with implementing parts of the Clean Power Plan. A compromise ultimately slashed funding by nearly $112,000.
Hickenlooper, a supporter of the Clean Power Plan, who could have vetoed that part of the budget, said he preferred to default to the work of the Legislature.
“When you make the budget, there are all kinds of compromises,” Hickenlooper said. “This is a state with a lot of different people and a lot of different opinions.”
Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, vice-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, knows something about compromise, having had to accept the budget being the largest in state history. Lambert is usually an advocate for smaller government.
“I feel so dirty,” he said to laughs.
Added House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, “The budget is an important document in that it provides the moral framework by which we then provide services to the people of the state of Colorado, and most of all, how we invest in the future of our state.”