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Hickenlooper signs ‘Long Bill,’ applauds bipartisan collaboration on state budget

Author: Ernest Luning - May 26, 2017 - Updated: May 29, 2017

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Gov. John Hickenlooper signs the 2017-18 state budget on Friday, May 26, 2017, at the state Capitol in Denver as state Sens. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and state Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, al members of the Joint Budget Committee, and Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, Assistant House Majority Leader K.C. Becker, D-Boulder, House Speaker Pro Tem Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne look on. (Photo courtesy House Democrats)
Gov. John Hickenlooper signs the 2017-18 state budget on Friday, May 26, 2017, at the state Capitol in Denver as state Sens. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and state Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, al members of the Joint Budget Committee, and Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, Assistant House Majority Leader K.C. Becker, D-Boulder, House Speaker Pro Tem Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne look on. (Photo courtesy House Democrats)

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday signed the upcoming year’s budget, known as the Long Appropriations Bill, praising legislators on both sides of the aisle for coming together to avert “draconian” cuts while safeguarding spending on health care and schools.

Senate Bill 254 sets a $28.7 billion budget for the state for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins in July, up by 5.8 percent over last year’s budget. Of that figure, $10.6 billion is from the General Fund — income and sales tax collections — amounting to an increase of 5.7 percent over the 2016-17 budget.

The governor is expected to sign Senate Bill 267, omnibus legislation that establishes an enterprise fund for the state’s hospital provider fee, among numerous other measures.

“This bill, and the passage of the hospital provider fee enterprise, allowed us to avoid draconian decisions to important parts of the budget and protected funding for health care and schools,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “I applaud the commitment and collaboration of all of the participants in this process as they once again showed a spirit of bipartisanship that effectively serves the the people of Colorado.”

State Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, the vice chair and one of two House Democrats on the six-member Joint Budget Committee, sounded a note of relief that the budget was in the books.

“This was one of the hardest budgets I’ve worked on, but strong bipartisan cooperation has thankfully gotten us to a place where we averted devastating cuts to our schools, hospitals and transportation,” she said in a statement. “I hope we can carry on that bipartisan partnership into next session and work to focus on our K-12 classrooms, which deserve so much more.”

The budget Hickenlooper signed represented a slight increase over his initial budget proposal in November, which totaled $28.5 billion. At the time, the governor identified a roughly $500 million gap between new constitutional and statutory demands on spending and the available revenue.

“This budget continues a Colorado tradition of prioritizing prudent spending increases for critical programs in a constricted revenue environment,” Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said in a letter sent Friday to legislative leaders informing them he had signed the legislation.

Pointing out that he speaks from experience, Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, applauded the JBC for the panel’s months of deliberations that produced the budget.

“Having served the last two years on the Joint Budget Committee alongside Chairman (Kent) Lambert, I am particularly appreciative of the months of hard work, dedication, and difficult decisions the members of the JBC carried out for Coloradans,” Grantham said in a statement.

“The task with which we have charged these six Legislators is not an easy one, and while the document we see before us is not regarded as perfect by any lawmaker in this building, it is a perfect reflection of our state’s current values and priorities,” he added.

State Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, Hamner’s fellow House Democrat on the JBC, listed several appropriations that he considers wins.

“I’m especially pleased we were able to protect our most vulnerable populations, including those with developmental disabilities, that we were able to provide dollars for affordable housing and substance abuse, that we were able to increase the number of oil and gas inspectors in the state, and that we were able to protect our schools from the massive cuts we were anticipating at the beginning of the year,” Young said.

Hickenlooper pointed to lines in the budget he considers noteworthy, including boosting K-12 spending by $242 in per-pupil funding.

The governor also singled out several appropriations from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund to pay for programs the Legislature approved this session, including $15.3 million for housing for at-risk populations, a $5.9 million grant program to help local governments prosecute gray- and blackmarket marijuana, $9.7 million to increase the number of health workers in secondary schools and $7.1 million to help end the use of jails to hold people undergoing mental health crises.

Grantham summed up his assessment of the budget Hickenlooper signed: “Today, we signed a budget that reflects the melting pot of values that make Colorado strong.”

He added that lawmakers around the country could learn plenty from Colorado officials

“While gridlock and partisan politics may reign supreme in other states and in Washington D.C.,” Grantham said, “I am proud that here in Colorado, we are able to put people above politics.”

ernest@coloradostatesman.com  

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.