Senate passes state budget with strong bipartisan support
Compared to the House, where only one Republican voted for this year’s state budget, all was weary sunshine and rainbows in the Senate. After congratulating each other on finding the funds for a possible aerial fire fighting fleet, the Senate passed this year’s budget by a vote of 26-8.
The eight no votes came from Republican Senators Vicki Marble, Fort Collins, Scott Refroe, Eaton, Ted Harvey, Highlands Ranch, Owen Hill, Colorado Springs, Greg Brophy, Wray, David Balmer, Centennial, Kevin Grantham, Canon City, and Kevin Lundberg, Berthoud.
Brophy explained his no vote by saying he was concerned that healthcare funding, which he attributed to the Affordable Care Act, has gone up by 87 percent in the last four years while education funding has only gone up 4 percent.
Renfroe, who is term limited, noted that, when he took office in 2007, annual state funding for higher education was $750 million. He said he didn’t feel right voting for a bill that only allocates $659 million to the state’s colleges and universities.
Several Democrats took issue with these complaints. Sen. Irene Aguilar of Denver noted that the large increase in the General Assembly’s health funding has not, in fact, been a result of the Affordable Care Act but rather a piece of legislation she sponsored in 2009 to help provide more access to healthcare for the uninsured.
Majority Leader Rollie Heath of Boulder, who has spent the bulk of his legislative career trying to raise more funds for education was, in a word, incensed by Republican accusations that not enough was being done to fund K-12.
“I’m standing up here literally shaking. I’m the oldest man in this room and the only reason I’m here is education, and I think everyone knows that,” said Heath. He proceeded to rail against the Republican side of the aisle for failing to support his 2011 Proposition 103 to raise taxes for education as well as a more recent initiative, Amendment 66, that would have added $1 billion annually to K-12 funding. This lack of support came despite studies from both the University of Denver and Colorado State University demonstrating that if the legislature doesn’t find a way to raise revenue, they soon won’t have enough money to fund anything but K-12 education, corrections and medicaid.
“To stand up here and say we do not have a commitment to education burns me up. I resent that, we should all resent that. This state needs to recommit to education at all levels. We are not doing right by our kids and we can not do right by our kids within this budget,” Heath concluded.
Lundberg disagreed, saying that if Democrats would consider a tax credit for families wishing to homeschool or enroll their children in private institutions, the education picture might improve without raising taxes.
In spite of the sparks around education funding, most of the Senate came together to say they were proud to have compromised so well.
Minority Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs encouraged his caucus to vote yes because he budget reflected the infrastructural, educational and rainy-day investments his party had said they wanted from the beginning.
“I just ask for a vote so we can go home and take a nap,” concluded Colorado Springs Sen. Kent Lambert, a member of the budget committee, to some applause.
The proposal now heads to conference committee where representatives from both chambers will hash out a compromise between the Senate and House versions of the budget next week.
Which lawmakers will try out that minimum wage lifestyle?
With the balanced budget still firmly on the Senate’s mind, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Westminster challenged his colleagues to join him in pledging to live on a minimum wage household’s budget next week. That’s $49 a week for food and $52 a week for transit and everything else, he said.
“We just passed a budget to support working families in Colorado and I think it’s important we understand the real lived implications of what it’s like to live on minimum wage,” said Ulibarri, noting that legislators make more than twice the salary of someone working full-time on minimum wage. He added that the average minimum wage worker is 35 years old and that 90 percent of all minimum wage workers are adults, not teenagers.
House finds sweet relief from strain of toilet debate
After just a little bit more debate and just a few more puns, the House passed SB 103 by a vote of 35-28 today. The bill prohibits the sale of water-inefficient plumbing fixtures after September of 2016.
Rep. Polly Lawrence of Littleton said she opposed the bill because the subsidies that currently exist for high-efficiency plumbing are working and she didn’t feel a mandate was necessary or appropriate.
Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen suggested that the bill was more or less a play by Denver Water to get everyone else in the state to shoulder the city’s endless thirst.
Ultimately a majority of the House agreed with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Randy Fischer of Fort Collins, that the fixtures are cost competitive and that it’s worth making Coloradans buy them if it can save the state an estimated 13 billion gallons of water each year.
The measure now heads to the Governor’s desk.
House gets down to business to defeat appropriations backup
The House convened a little late today while they waited for the Appropriations Committee, which meets in the early morning, to churn through the more than 30 bills that had begun to pile up there. The House then held the floor until past noon deciding whether to give initial approval to the bills that made it out of that committee. Here is a sampling for your Friday afternoon reading pleasure:
HB 1013, Pay advanced industry interns: Rep. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs and Rep. Mike Foote of Lafayette proposed spending half a million dollars each year to help fund student internships in advanced industry companies throughout Colorado.
Foote argued that the bill touched on two of the most important things the legislature works on: education and jobs.
Some conservatives opposed the measure saying it made no sense to pay companies, potentially fortune 500 companies at that, to pay their interns. Foote countered that not everyone can afford to take an unfunded career development position and that the grant evened the playing field by making the necessary opportunities to get a high paying job available to all Colorado’s students.
The bill got initial approval on a voice vote.
HB 1061, Get rid of debtors’ prisons: Woops! Even though it’s unconstitutional some of Colorado’s municipalities are still routinely jailing folks for being unable to pay fines for infractions as minor as stealing a can of fish.
Thorton Rep. Joe Salazar’s bill reiterates in statute that such a practice is illegal and also gives local courts some guidelines about how to make sure someone really can’t pay and how to work with them on alternative or scheduled restitution.
The bill got initial approval without a single audible no.
HB 1072, Child care tax credits for Colorado’s poorest working families: Due to a loophole in how Colorado calculates its state child care tax credit, the state’s poorest working families — those making less than $25,000 a year — aren’t qualifying for the assistance that wealthier families receive because they aren’t making enough to pay federal taxes, which is how the state calculates its own assistance.
Lakewood Rep. Brittany Pettersen and Rep. Tony Exum of Colorado Springs brought this measure to make sure those families are eligible for tax credit assistance of an annual maximum of $500 dollars per child, up to two children. They also amended the measure to make sure the legislature checks back in on the policy’s efficacy and affordability in three years.
Pettersen noted that 62 percent of those who would qualify for this new tax credit are single mothers. Exum added that the bill also helps support Colorado’s child care industry which provides 15,o00 jobs in the state.
The bill got hearty initial approval.
HB 1009, even more better reasons to do wildfire mitigation: Carried by Rep. Tony Exum of Colorado Springs, a city hit particularly hard in the last few years by wildfires, this bill ramps-up the incentive for folks living along undeveloped forests to invest in wildfire mitigation on their property.
Currently the state offers a tax deduction for the costs homeowners incur while doing fire mitigation. Exum’s bill changes that to a tax credit, which means the state will mach homeowners dollar for dollar on 25 percent of their mitigation costs up to $2,500.
The measure got initial approval today, so get chopping folks!
HB 1316, Report on diversity in state contracting: This bill, sponsored by Reps. Angela Williams of Denver and Joe Salazar of Thornton, asks for $1.2 million dollars to conduct a report on what kind of business owners and contractors are winning state contracts.
Salazar noted that Denver recently did a local version of this study and found that, yes, the vast majority of contracts went to businesses owned by white men. That said, both sponsors emphasized that the report would not be not a series of guidelines, goals or mandates about who should be allowed to contract with the state.
Even with that caveat in place, they got a lot of push-back on the bill. Chief among that opposition were concerns that the study was too expensive, that it might violate a contractor’s privacy and that it may not, in fact, be needed.
Rep. Libby Szabo of Arvada proposed an amendment to have the Department of Labor do their own, cheaper, internal survey first in order to see if the larger study was really needed.
Salazar called Szabo’s amendment a study of a study, which he felt was silly and distracted from the point of the bill — to make sure that Colorado’s diverse businesses are arriving at an even playing field when it comes to government contracts.
After several rounds of failed amendments, the measure got initial approval.
SB 114, CSU Global open for that four-year degree granting business: Rating among the top 20 nationally for online degree programs, Colorado State University’s Global program got the go-ahead to offer full four-year degrees from the House today.
“This is truly the future of education,” said the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker, adding that the program was particularly good for active military students and those looking for an affordable way to get a four-year degree.
Co-sponsored by the chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, the bill got initial approval today.