State’s $28.9 billion budget for 2018-19 unveiled

Author: Marianne Goodland - March 27, 2018 - Updated: April 5, 2018

legislature (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

DENVER — The Colorado House of Representatives on Monday rolled out House Bill 1322, the Long Appropriations Bill, which details a budget for the Colorado state government of $28.9 billion in 2018-19.

The 595-page budget bill reflects $8.6 billion in the general fund from sales and income tax; another $2.3 billion in general funds exempt from the Taxpayers Bill of Rights; $8.5 billion in cash funds, which are dollars devoted to specific purposes, unlike income or sales taxes; and $8.6 billion in federal dollars.

Another $349 million from all of those sources is reserved for construction and maintenance of state facilities, from prisons to colleges to information technology projects.

According to a narrative on the long bill, prepared by the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee staff, there’s one other pot of money that hasn’t yet been spent and could set off some squabbling among lawmakers: $40.8 million is left over as a surplus after all of the state’s obligations have been calculated and whisked into the budget bill.

JBC members aren’t ready to commit those dollars until after the budget bill and 17 accompanying bills also crafted by the JBC have moved through the process. But once that’s done, lawmakers will angle to use that surplus for their bills, many which have been sitting in appropriations committees for weeks and even months, waiting to see what money is left over.

At least some of that $40.8 million surplus will become the basis of what’s called a set-aside, which is what’s left over once the budget bill has moved on to the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper, the last of eight budgets he’s reviewed since taking office in 2011.

Those left-over dollars will be available to pay the tab for bills that clear the General Assembly between now and May 11, when the legislature adjourns for the year.

This is kind of a big deal for lawmakers, who have been warned for years that bills with big costs — and that definition of big costs varies — are destined to fail because the state budget had no money to pay for them.

State Rep. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat, told Colorado Politics that the bills with the best chance of funding are those with bipartisan support.

“There are quite a few of those bills (including his) that have bipartisan support,” he said. “There’s been some pent-up needs in the state that could potentially be addressed by the position we find ourselves in with the optimistic March forecast.”

Lawmakers have been judicious in addressing needs, he added, and those who are most successful will be those who find support from across the aisle.

The budget process has been a thorn in the side of some lawmakers, who would prefer to see more involvement in the budget-writing early on, perhaps as early as November.

That includes House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, Republican of Castle Rock, who has been working throughout the session to develop ideas on what that enhanced involvement would look like.

The issue is that most lawmakers — aside from the JBC, of course — know little about what’s in the budget until the caucus meeting the day before the full House debate. Neville believes lawmakers should have more of a voice in the budget-writing process and more information on how state agencies spend taxpayer dollars.

Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee will review the budget bill and the 17 bills that go with it. From there, the House will split into its two political caucuses and get an explanation of what’s in the budget, likely an all-day process. Lawmakers will also work on amendments to the budget bill.

Wednesday, the House will likely spend most of the day debating the long bill and it could be ready for a final vote by Thursday.

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.