State lawmakers add and subtract on the state’s premier budget document

Update: as of 8:02 p.m., Republican Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs asked that the budget bill (more than 600 pages) be read at length. It’s a parliamentary move that can only be withdrawn by the person who starts it. Lawmakers gathered around the press table on the floor of the House to bicker with each other. The issue is an amendment by Williams to defund counties and cities that identify as sanctuary cities for purposes of protecting undocumented immigrants. The reading lasted 29 minutes, and Reading Clerk Connor Randall was assisted by about a dozen other House staff members, who all read different pages simultaneously. Something of a Tower of Babel….

The following is a two-minute back and forth among lawmakers about the amendment.

In its annual budget marathon, House Democratic lawmakers Thursday went on a spending spree, moving millions of dollars around in the 2017-18 state budget to pay for priorities on film incentives, career and technical education, and weatherization services for low-income Coloradans.

Lawmakers readied 93 amendments for the annual budget, known as the Long Appropriations Bill, with dozens focused on either funding education or transportation or both. 

The 2017-18 state budget is $26.8 billion, an increase of 4.2 percent over 2016-17. The budget is crafted by the six members of the Joint Budget Committee, three Democrats and three Republicans, reflecting the split control of the General Assembly, with Democrats in charge of the House and Republicans running the Senate.

Republicans, who have an 9-seat* deficit in the 65-member House, were frequently stymied in their efforts to fund their priorities, which including finding money for transportation, eliminating certain tests in K-12 education, or enacting across-the-board cuts in state agencies. They also tried to pass an amendment that would kick out of Medicaid those low-income adults who don’t have children, as well as two amendments that sought to require low-income Coloradans on Medicaid to cover co-payments for medical services in order to fund $1.4 million in transportation projects.

Republicans’ biggest success as of 5 p.m. was in passing an amendment directing the state’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to reduce administrative costs tied to the hospital provider fee. The provider fee, the hottest topic at the state Capitol this session, is the subject of a bill that will be heard next week in the Senate Finance Committee. The measure’s sponsors want to reclassify the fee, which is used to pay for low-income health care, into an enterprise, a government-owned business, which could free up about $350 million per year that could be used for transportation, K-12 education and health care.

The amendment, offered by Republican Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan, could free up almost $8 million for mostly rural hospitals in dire financial straits.

Republicans revisited other issues through the budget bill, such as defunding any state public universities that engage in the trafficking of “aborted baby body parts,” a reference to the 2015 controversy over debunked videos that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of body parts. That amendment was offered by Republican Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs, who also suggested defunding so-called “sanctuary” city and county governments that harbor undocumented immigrants.

Democrats, who hold a 37-28 majority, made a number of changes to the budget, including putting $3 million into film incentives, funding $40,000 for elective circumcisions for Medicaid patients, and adding back in a Senate amendment that would create a $16.3 million fund for affordable housing construction grants and loans, paid for with pot taxes.

As of press time, the House had moved through about forty of its 93 amendments, and was expected to continue debate late into the night. If the House finishes work on the bill before midnight, they would be expected to vote on it on Friday. If they work past midnight, by law, they cannot vote on the budget on Friday and would hold it over until Monday. State law dictates that preliminary and final votes on a bill cannot take place on the same day.


Feature photo: Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, vice-chair of the Joint Budget Committee, with Democratic Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran of Denver and fellow JBC member Rep. Dave Young, a Greeley Democrat, as they poured over House amendments to the budget bill on Thursday. Photo by Marianne Goodland

*Correction: a previous version said House Republicans had an 11-seat deficit. It’s a nine-seat gap.