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Senate approves Colorado state budget on 26-8 vote

Author: Marianne Goodland - April 5, 2018 - Updated: April 12, 2018

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billThe Colorado Capitol is pictured on a sunny day in this file photo. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

The Colorado Senate Thursday put its vote of approval on the state 2018-19 budget that it spent 11 hours fighting over Wednesday night.

The $28.9 billion budget bill and the 18 accompanying bills that help balance the budget now go back to the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, which developed the budget. The JBC will be tasked with coming up with a compromise between the House and Senate versions, both which exceed the amount of surplus general fund revenue available.

When the JBC finished drafting House Bill 1322, the Long Appropriations Bill, budget documents showed an extra $40.8 million available in general fund dollars that could cover the costs of changes made by the House or Senate.

The House added $63.2 million in general fund spending; the Senate, on what one member called spending “like a drunken sailor,” added an estimated $73 million in general fund dollars.

The task for the JBC in the coming week is to figure out what stays and what goes.

Among the amendments agreed upon by both the House and Senate:

  • $35 million to the Department of Public Safety that would go to a school safety fund. Those dollars would go to hire more police officers for schools and to pay for safety improvements at school facilities. Despite his sponsorship of that amendment, it apparently wasn’t sufficient to gain support for the budget bill for Republican Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton, who was one of four Republicans to vote against the Long Bill. Neville told Colorado Politics Thursday the budget was “Christmas tree’d” with a lot of issues and is now out of balance. “I can’t vote for a budget that tremendously grows government,” he said.
  • $2 million in general fund dollars to the Department of Local Affairs for a “Peace Officers Mental Health Support Fund.”
  • $6 million in marijuana tax revenues that would go to the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) fund.
  • $3.2 million in general fund to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to increase rates for those who assist in home and personal care. That amendment was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, one of four Democrats to vote against the Long Bill.
  • $9.4 million in general fund dollars to boost pay for direct care staff at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan and the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.

The vote on the Long Bill did not come without a lengthy discussion, including a plea from several lawmakers for the General Assembly to rein in the spending.

One of those requests came from Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, himself a JBC member. In previous years, there’s been a lot more discipline by the legislature in its decision-making, Lundberg said. “We need to show a little more discipline and reserve when we go through this process” and he urged lawmakers to take that into consideration next year. Lundberg is term-limited and won’t be back in 2019.

But those previous years didn’t have a $1.3 billion surplus lighting up lawmakers’ eyes.

Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City noted the surplus was the first he’s seen since first joining the Senate in the 2011 legislative session. Having more money to spend is not easier, Grantham told the Senate, and called the intense 11-hour debate a “food fight.”

“We finally made roads a priority,” Grantham said, referring to House Bill 1340, which sets aside $495 million in general fund dollars for transportation in case Senate Bill 1 does not pass. “I” like some of the wins we got,” including some that “we won together.”

Several Democrats who said they would vote against the bill complained of an abuse of process that they claimed took place Wednesday night. That was related to the $35 million amendment for school safety, which drew “yes” votes from the JBC’s two Republican senators. JBC members don’t usually vote for amendments to the Long Bill that don’t originate from the JBC.

That vote later drew Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City to complain that he had taken heat from his caucus over some of his votes that aligned with the two other JBC members. The vote on the school safety amendment broke with JBC tradition, Moreno said. “I’m ashamed to be a member of this committee.”

However, Grantham, who spent two years on the JBC before becoming Senate president, said those rules are not cast in stone, and Kerr noted that the tradition had been broken before, citing a JBC member’s vote against the Long Bill in 2010. That was by Lambert.

Kerr and fellow Democratic Sen. Lois Court of Denver both said they would vote against the Long Bill over the school safety amendment. Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora said she could not support the budget with that amendment intact but later voted for it anyway.

The JBC now has the task of coming up with a compromise that balances the 2018-19 budget and figures out what to do about items that won bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

The budget-writing committee is scheduled to start working on it on Monday. The current deadline for having the final budget done is April 13, although they can extend that if need be.

“Fix this, please,” Republican Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs told the JBC.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.