The Democrat-majority state House passed a $23 billion budget on March 28 that will increase funding for education, aid flood and wildfire victims, and will bolster reserves by stashing away millions in “rainy day” dollars.
But only one …
This item is available in full to subscribers.
If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.
Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.
If you made a voluntary contribution in 2022-2023 of $50 or more, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.
But only one Republican voted for the annual “long bill” as GOP members blasted Democrats for not funding specific measures that are of importance to the minority party, including money for increased drunken driving penalties and what they are saying is not enough money for K-12 education.
The passage of the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget came on the heels of several hours of debate that spanned two days as lawmakers wrangled over a long bill that comes with more dollars than last year's, thanks in part to a state economy that continues to gain steam.
“We are in a better place, we can make investments, we can start putting back the pieces that were harmed in the great recession,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.
The bill includes a general fund budget — made up of tax revenue that supports the operations of most state departments — of $8.7 billion, a $600 million increase over the current year's budget.
About half of the general fund dollars support K-12 and higher education, both of which will receive significant increases in the new budget.
Through the annual school finance act and the Student Success Act — school funding measures that are making their way through the Legislature — the budget will pump about $200 million in additional K-12 education funding that increase per-pupil funding by $200 per student.
That money will also be used to enroll more kids in preschool and full-day kindergarten, as well as to fund English language learning programs.
Higher education will receive an additional $100 million in funding, the majority of which will go toward student financial aid.
“We are making a huge investment in our K-12 system,” Ferrandino said. “This is a responsible budget that sets us up for success in the future.”
The budget also includes an additional $78 million in disaster relief funds. Money will be available to provide tax relief for homeowners who were impacted by last year's floods and wildfires, something that was a top priority for the Legislature coming into this year's session.
In addition, the long bill includes 2.5 percent pay increases for state employees and Medicaid providers.
Gov. John Hickenlooper will see a few things in the budget that he will surely use in his re-election campaign literature. That includes money that will update outdated computer technology at the Department of Motor Vehicles, which aims to significantly reduce wait times at DMV offices.
And the state's emergency reserves will increase from 5 percent under this year to 6.5 percent, under the new budget. That was a key piece to Hickenlooper's budget request to the Joint Budget Committee, prior to the start of the legislative session.
The budget also includes about $50 million that will be set aside for bills that are currently going through legislative process.
Parties clash over funding areas
Lawmakers tend to fight more when there is an abundance of money, rather than during lean budget years. And that was the case in House on March 27 and 28, when more than 40 budget amendments were introduced by lawmakers who were seeking funding for various priorities.
They included failed efforts by Republicans to set aside $1.7 million to pay for initial funding of a bill that would create a felony DUI in Colorado for repeat cases of drunken driving. That effort is being sponsored by Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, who is also running for attorney general.
“Democrats stated they had set aside money for priorities, yet I cannot think of a bigger priority than protecting Colorado families from habitual drunk drivers,” Waller said through a statement issued after the first night of House debate.
Republicans also blasted Democrats for not support GOP measures to increase funding for road construction and backfilling K-12 education budget cuts that has created the so-called “negative factor.”
The budget includes $100 million that will be used to buy down the negative factor, but Republicans wanted that buy-down to be increased by as much as $35 million more than what's being proposed.
House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, took issue with Democrats' rejections of GOP proposals.
“It's tough for me to stand here and say this was a broad, bipartisan budget,” DelGrosso said. “We could have done so much more with the resources we have and we could have done it in a fiscally responsible way.”
DelGrosso joined 26 other Republicans to vote against the budget. The only Republican to vote yes was Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, who is a member of the Joint Budget Committee.
But Ferrandino said key Republican efforts are not dead. Chances are that Waller's felony DUI bill will end up passing the House Appropriations Committee — something that Ferrandino assured Waller would happen, Waller told Colorado Community Media.
Ferrandino said that Democrats could also get behind another GOP proposal to fund a pilot project for advanced placement students in rural communities, so long as Republicans do something to reduce the price tag of the program.
The House speaker said the economy is doing better and the sate can do more things than it has been able to do in recent years. But that doesn't mean that everyone's going to get their way.
“We still have to live in the realities of the budgets we have,” Ferrandino said. “There's a lot of things I'd love to do in the budget, but at the end of the day, that budget has to be balanced.”
The budget bill now heads to the Senate.
Other items that may interest you
We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.