Colorado Senate passes budget bill with bipartisan support

Colorado Senate passes budget bill with bipartisan support

After arguing till late in the night Friday over budget provisions, the Colorado State Senate passed the long bill Monday with only a brief discussion from members. While Democrats laid out their deep concerns for the future of the state as cuts were again levied against K-12, Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said the depictions of the State by some members reminded him of Calcutta, not Colorado.

“I listen to some of our members describe a state and a budget and a public infrastructure that I don’t recognize. That sounds like perhaps Calcutta before Mother Teresa,” Mitchell said. Mitchell was talking about Democratic concerns for a budget they say is stripped well past the bone.

While the spending package–or long bill–passed with ease, many Democrats lamented the loss of funding to programs not only for children, but for the basic provisions they said government was put in place to create.

Senator Rollie Heath said he would not vote for the budget package, explaining that he thought it was failing Colorado and was not providing adequate funding for infrastructure or education. He said Colorado could do better.

“When you get into the human side of this budget, what we have done is to take away from those least among us the very essentials they have in order to live on their own.” Heath said. “How can anybody be happy with a budget that basically undermines those three core functions of government that we as a minimum believe in.”

Heath said tax investments in Colorado’s future are essential and he could not support a budget that only included further cuts to programs.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, also voted against the bill, but with a completely different ideological perspective. Lundberg told Senate members that though he applauded the Democrats for finding the middle ground and helping craft the best budget possible under the conditions, it still was not enough.

“In my 9-years here in the Legislature, it is the best budget I have seen,” Lundberg said. “Overall the State is reducing some 750 full-time government employees. These are great steps forward for the State of Colorado. Nonetheless I shall be a no vote on the long bill. … I am voting no because we could and should do so much more.”

However, Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, held the opinion of the majority who voted for the bill when he explained simply that the best bills were those that both sides hate.

Both Democrats and Republicans have a little to hate in the budget.

The bill reduces the cuts to K-12 education by $82 million to $200 million, maintains a minimum of $100 million in the State Education Fund to protect against future education cuts, and increases the State reserve fund to 4 percent.

Democrats had early on in the budget process called into question the necessity of the 4 percent reserve fund, noting the significant cuts to other programs necessary to fill its coffers. However, with the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republicans, it found its way into the budget compromise.

Other concessions made by Democrats include a reinstatement of a portion of State payments to vendors for tax collection and the reinstatement of tax breaks on agricultural products and software purchases over the internet.

Republicans also gave up an amendment by Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, that would have allowed local school districts and governments to institute a PERA swap, reducing monthly take home pay of those workers.

“The people of Colorado expect us to pass a balanced budget and we did. Democrats fought hard for a responsible, balanced budget that puts kids first and will help grow our economy,” Senate President Brandon Shaffer said after the passing of the budget. “This budget was made through difficult conversations, tough cuts, and bipartisan compromise. We passed a balanced budget and we fulfilled our moral duty by standing up for Colorado kids and their future.”

The budget will now move to the House where the defunding of Planned Parenthood could resurface in a more friendly environment.

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