State House continues battle over phantom money

The Republican controlled State House today voted to adhere to its position on a House joint resolution that provides budget guidance. The move scuttled a scheduled conference committee and puts the legislature further out of compliance with state statutes.

The 33-32 party line vote on HJR-1007 continued contentious relations between Republicans and Democrats that have oddly centered on a bill that has little real effect.

After Republicans cut the legislative council budget forecast by 2.7 percent, Democrats in the Senate roundly rejected the House amendment, asking where the deeper cuts would come from. In return the House agreed to send the resolution to a conference committee in order that a compromise could be reached.

Today, Republicans said they were unwilling to do that and instead voted on a motion by bill sponsor Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R- Loveland, to adhere to their earlier position to cut the budget, and dissolve the committee. That decision likely will lead to the Senate rejecting the resolution, effectively killing it.

“When we talk about a compromise, what compromise is there?” DelGrosso said. “We either chart a new course and say we are not going to do business as usual, or we continue to do the same thing we are doing. The question, I feel is clear, so going to a conference committee will not solve that problem.”

Democrats were furious at the decision, some raising concerns that it helped to erode the good faith relationships that had existed in the legislature.

“I voted to send [the resolution] to conference committee and I feel like this is a violation of the honor of my vote. And I think that we are eroding the relationships that we are trying to build down here,” Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, said on the House floor.

Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, told Solano that that under the joint rules of the Senate and the House the motion was in order.

Today’s action also puts the resolution further out of compliance with Colorado Law.

According to Colorado revised statutes 24-7-201.3, the general assembly must certify a revenue estimate through a resolution to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) by Feb. 1 of each year in order to help the JBC determine the amount of funds available for general fund appropriations. It specifies that that amount should take into consideration forecasts by the office of state planning and budget and by the staff of the legislative council.

“My idea is that we get rid of the entire resolution because it doesn’t do anything and we spend tons of time, wasting our time, talking about this. So why are we even doing it?” Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, asked. “This motion will kill the resolution and I think we should give it a fighting chance to pass… [this] is not the way we should govern, we should try and work between the two bodies to try and find a solution.”

DelGrosso said it was unimportant, as they were already out of compliance, further stating the motion would not kill the resolution but would send the bill to the Senate to decide if they would accept the House version. “We are not trying to play games here.”

Rep. Dickey Hullinghorst, D-Niwot, said her constituents would prefer to see a conference committee.

“I know that my constituents would not want this body to pick a number out of the air to certify as a forecast… and potentially use that as an excuse during this next budgeting process to cut more people who can hold on just barely in this down economy, to use it as an excuse to cut K-12 education.” Hullinghorst said. “I think we should do the best we can to budget to the best forecast that the economists have done for us.”

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said that prior legislatures had set up the process but that no prior legislature can bind this legislature. He further commented that Republicans were not out to appropriate funds but to provide a better sense of the budget.

“A message that I heard from my school superintendent was let me know now what the pain is going to be in this budget, because not to know now is to make it more difficult,” Gardner said. “This is a figure that we believe to be, in our best judgment, the figure we need to budget for the people of Colorado and to do so in the best interest of school districts, in the best interests of health care, in everyone’s best interest.”

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