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Colorado Senate Debates, Approves Budget

Posted: April 2, 2015 at 12:18 pm by , in Breaking News, Capitol Coverage

The state’s budget for next year initially passed the Senate on Wednesday after a nearly nine hour debate. It’s the final part of the months long budgeting process. As Bente Birkeland reports, lawmakers didn’t make many changes.

 

 

The State Senate approved the annual budget on Thursday. It approves $9.6 billion dollars for Colorado’s general fund, which pays for schools, parks, roads and prisons among other state programs. The budget gained unanimous support from Republicans who hold a one-seat majority in the chamber.

“I believe it has hit the proper balance,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel (R-Parker).

While members of the GOP noted that it was the largest budget in state history, that fact didn’t dissuade the entire caucus from backing it. Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) who usually votes against the budget said he would be a yes vote on all 591 pages.

“It includes funding for programs that I have argued against over the years, but I do recognize that it is our job to have a budget at the end of the process.”

Meanwhile Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the budget, with only three joining Republicans to support it. They complained that many of their values were not included in the process. Senator Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge) said it’s her first no vote in 13 years.

“My vote is not because I lost an amendment. I’m a big girl. You win some you lose some,” said Jahn. “This budget year, on this floor, in this part of the budget process, didn’t allow for the comradity that I had come to know.”

But other Democrats were upset that a number of their proposed amendments didn’t pass, such as money for rural broadband and funds to continue a pay equity commission.

“Many good things got shut out,” said Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora). “The things that we fought for, for ordinary Coloradans, when we got shut out of an ability to participate in this year’s budget, a lot of those ideas did too.”
But if Democrats were shut out, so were Republicans. The Senate only adopted three relatively modest amendments to the budget after more than nine hours of debate. Two were bi-partisan, and one was a Democratic proposal for rural economic grants.
“I would certainly not argue that this has been so slanted, when you have a JBC that is divided equally between the two parties. Good heaven. That is the definition of bi-partisan,” said Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango).
Passing a balanced budget is the only job lawmakers are technically required to do under the state constitution. It starts with a draft from the Governor, followed by months of meetings from the bi-partisan joint budget committee to craft it.

During the debate on the Senate floor lawmakers tried to pass dozens of amendments to change the budget. Republicans lost almost all of their own amendments too, including proposals to reduce money for childhood immunizations and to cut funds for state standardized tests for math and English in K through 12 schools.

Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) chastised Democrats for complaining that their party didn’t have a voice. He said every amendment got a fair hearing. He also pointed out that the budget funds current law.

“So if you don’t like what happened in the past, you aught to look back and see what you did that you didn’t like.”

That’s because for the last two years Democrats have held the majority in both chambers and the Governor’s office. In addition to leadership changes at the statehouse, this year marks the first time in a decade that Colorado will be required to refund money to tax payers under the Tax Payers Bill of Rights or TABOR amendment. High revenue growth means refunds of nearly $190 million. On Monday the budget heads to the Democratic controlled House where lawmakers in that chamber will get a chance to make tweaks to the budget.