House slashes from hospitals, roads and ed to balance budget

“We pulled off some miracles!”

That was the claim this morning by the Joint Budget Committee, after the House gave final approval to the 2016-17 Colorado budget bill.

The $27.1 billion budget includes a 1.8 percent increase in spending above 2015-16 levels.

The vote to approve the budget was 39-26. All but five members of the 31-member Republican caucus voted against it. That’s not unusual.

And although he voted against it, House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, a Loveland Republican, applauded the work of the budget committee in finding a way to avoid the large budget cuts recommended by Gov. John Hickenlooper last November.

Hickenlooper’s budget would have increased the shortfall for K-12 education from $855 million to $905 million. Instead, the budget committee was able to pay down some of that shortfall, to just under $831 million.

Higher education could have been cut by $20 million, under the Governor’s budget, but that was also averted.

During the Thursday budget debate, both parties tried and failed to make changes to the budget. That included trying to find money for transportation and education, but those amendments were defeated.

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt of Colorado Springs announced Thursday he would not vote for the budget because it included state funding for the Long-Acting Reproductive Contraception program, which he claimed provides “abortifacients” to young women.

Still, the budget committee was pleased the budget crisis predicted for 2016-17 didn’t materialize, due to lower than expected revenues.

One of the results of those lower revenue estimates is there won’t be a taxpayer refund in 2016-17.

“I’m disappointed we couldn’t invest in higher education,” said budget committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat. She also lamented cuts to hospitals and physicians, and that roads and bridge repairs, which should have received $200 million, were cut $50 million in order to balance the budget.

“When we started, we faced terrible cuts…these are the best decisions we could have made, given our constraints,” Hamner said.

The budget bill now goes to the Senate for approval, but the House still has to deal with the two most debated bills in the budget package: one that would reclassify the hospital provider fee, and the School Finance Act. Action on both has been delayed until Monday.

Photo credit: Jeffrey, Creative Commons, Flickr

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.