House gives preliminary approval to 2018-19 budget
Author: Marianne Goodland - March 29, 2018 - Updated: April 5, 2018
DENVER — Based on the packet of amendments to the Long Appropriations Bill, Colorado lawmakers are seeing dollar signs for the first time in years. On Wednesday night the Colorado House, on a voice vote, put its stamp on the 2018-19 budget — with a lot more changes than in years past.
As Wednesday began, House members had submitted 95 amendments to the 2018-19 state budget bill. The dollar signs in some lawmakers’ eyes came from a budget surplus of $1.3 billion estimated by state economists last week.
Money wasn’t the only motivator in Wednesday’s debate. A planned Good Friday day off hung in the balance, adding to lawmakers’ desire to get the Long Bill done before midnight so it could be ready for a final vote on Thursday.
Among the notable amendments:
- An amendment to shift funding away from the state’s private prisons, a priority this session for Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton (and others). Salazar had five amendments to move money away from in-state private prisons, including one that would take $1.5 million from payments to in-state private prisons and shift it to early childhood education assistance under the Department of Human Services. He pulled all but one of the five, but it was the one that mattered: an amendment to take $1.5 million from private prisons and shift it to a Human Services program for high-risk pregnant women won approval.
- Republican Rep. Justin Everett of Littleton had the amendment with the biggest dollar sign: a decrease of $1.5 billion in medical services premiums in the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. The amendment would add a footnote that the reduction is targeted to eliminate Medicaid eligibility for adults without dependent children. That amendment failed, as did another Everett amendment that would have taken $112 million away from Medicaid funding for able-bodied adults.
- An amendment from Republican Rep. Tim Leonard of Evergreen would take $1.8 million in medical services payments from the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. A footnote that goes along with this change explains this is to prevent the department from paying for a one-year supply of contraceptives for Medicaid clients. That amendment died on a voice vote.
- Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain was initially turned down for an amendment to take $150,000 in marijuana tax cash funds and direct it to the Department of Human Services to pay for service dogs for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. But Landgraf found a way to persuade lawmakers in a late-night recorded vote and the amendment passed.
- Democratic Rep. Don Valdez of La Jara wanted to add $500,000 to the Department of Natural Resources to fund the state water plan. A bill introduced in the Senate this week would put $7 million toward the water plan’s implementation versus the $10 million appropriated last year. Not to be outdone, Republican Rep. Marc Catlin of Montrose also sought $45 million for the water plan. While both of those amendments failed, Rep. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, a JBC member, said he was disappointed that the JBC was unable to put funds into the water plan this year and pledged to do so next year.
- One of the night’s most vigorous debates was over school safety. A handful of amendments attempted to address the issue, but the one that made it was the very last amendment (out of 95) to the Long Bill: a bipartisan compromise that put $35 million toward hiring more school resource officers and improving school building safety. The amendment was backed by Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver and Republican Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida. Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, who was a student at Columbine High School during the 1999 shooting, called the amendment one issue everyone could agree on and part of “an honest conversation on how to protect our schools. When I drop my kids off at schools, it will be a place where I won’t worry about them going through the same thing I went through 19 years ago.”
- Finally, an amendment supported by 26 House Democrats restored funding for the Colorado Division of Civil Rights. The amendment resolves one sticking issue with the division’s funding: If the division is reauthorized by the General Assembly, funding could come out of a pot of about $40 million set aside for bills still working through the process. But that’s general fund money and doesn’t address the cash funds the division receives from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a total of just under $500,000. Without that change, if the division is reauthorized, technically it could not accept those federal dollars, although the JBC could address that during the summer or even in the 2019 session with authority through a supplemental appropriation.
One other bill that made it through the House Wednesday night contains $495 million for transportation, approved by the JBC in case Senate Bill 1 does not pass. But the debate over House Bill 1340 may signal what happens when Senate Bill 1 reaches the House. The Senate measure won final approval from the Senate Wednesday on a 35-0 vote.
Democrats put an amendment on House Bill 1340 to shift some of its funding into multimodal projects statewide, despite arguments from rural lawmakers that local governments should decide how those dollars should be spent in their local communities. The debate over multimodal projects raises questions about the kinds of changes coming from the House that could happen to Senate Bill 1 in the coming days. Multimodal projects including public transit as well as bike and pedestrian options.
The rest of the 18 so-called orbital bills, which help balance the budget, also made it through the House late Wednesday night at break-neck speed.
Despite the long list of amendments, which kept lawmakers at the Capitol until just before midnight, any amendments that passed on Wednesday will be expected to come off the budget bill when it reaches the Senate Appropriations Committee next week.
And then the process will repeat itself when the budget bill hits the Senate.