Gov. Bill Ritter signed budget reform Senate Bill 228 into law this morning. The controversial bill — the work of bipartisan co-sponsors Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, and Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver — made an amazing journey this past legislative session. And, as law, will now serve to test hotly debated partisan theories about public spending in the state.
With the support of a legal brief drafted by former state Supreme Court justice Jean Dubofsky, SB 228 overcame initial concerns that it would unconstitutionally lift caps on spending without the voter approval mandated by TABOR, Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
It then outlasted an historic GOP filibuster in the Senate, moving to the House amazingly intact.
There, it benefited from the navigation of Marostica and Court and was lifted by Gov. Ritter’s support for amendments on two of the thornier points opponents raised in considering the bill. The amendments increased the state’s “rainy day” fund and put aside money for transportation funding.
Now law, the bill will restore budget decision-making power stripped nearly two decades ago by the state’s so-called Arveschoug-Bird provision, a formula which automatically transferred revenue out of the state’s General Fund each year for transportation and state building construction projects. As state revenues dwindled with the recession, Arveschoug-Bird effectively protected transportation and capital construction at the expense of all the other programs run by the state, including those providing health care, public safety, job retraining, special education and childcare.
The Arveschoug-Bird formula was in effect choosing pavement over people, as some observers put it. Today, the reign of Arveschoug-Bird effectively came to an end.
Will that mean that somehow, despite the parameters set by TABOR, spending will balloon, as SB 228’s GOP detractors have argued? Will it mean more-enlightened spending? Will it translate to greater lawmaker accountability to Colorado voters?