The Colorado Senate finally gave an initial OK to an $18 billion state budget late Thursday night after approving a plan over vehement GOP objections to lift $500 million from a state worker’s compensation fund to avoid massive cuts in higher education funding. But not before things got mighty testy.
In an unprecedented move, amid rumors Senate President Peter Groff would be departing to take a position in the Obama administration, leaders from both sides of the aisle agreed to send the state budget — known as the Long Bill — back to the Joint Budget Committee for retooling. The committee, made up of four Democrats and two Republicans, lobbed the bill right back to the state Senate, with members saying they’d done the digging and there were no more cuts to be found.
State Sen. Moe Keller, a Wheat Ridge Democrat and chairwoman of the budget panel, rejected the state Senate’s rejection. She told The Denver Post’s Tim Hoover it was “extremely frustrating and exasperating” that both Democrats and Republicans thought the JBC hadn’t done its job.
One of Keller’s colleagues, who’s already raised the ire of state GOP leaders for crossing his party on budget matters, gave Hoover a more colorful reaction to the suggestion the committee had dropped the ball:
Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, went further.
“Nuts to them,” he said. “Tell them to go jump in a lake. [Senate Minority Leader] Josh Penry first, and then all the lemmings will follow.
“We did look hard enough.”
The “lemmings,” in Marostica’s estimation, probably wouldn’t include state Sen. Al White, the Hayden Republican who co-sponsored a bill with Marostica to move $500 million in assets from Pinnacol Assurance, a quasi-governmental agency that insures state worker’s compensation claims, to cover the $300 million cut in higher education funding proposed by the Joint Budget Committee. That measure, Senate Bill 273, passed the state Senate 19-14 mostly along party lines late Thursday, with White voting in favor with the majority Democrats and Democratic state Sens. Dan Gibbs of Summit County and Paula Sandoval of Denver siding with Republicans against the bill.
Penry blasted the move, warning lawmakers against counting on the fund transfer, which he said would likely be bogged down in litigation over whether the state has the authority to raid Pinnacol Assurance assets.
“That’s the problem with this budget,” Penry said, according to Colorado Senate News, the Senate GOP’s publicity site. “It’s built on shifting sand.”
The bills come up before the state Senate again on Monday for a final vote.