House reaches rare consensus on budget

Brown’s push for building repair funds prevails

DENVER – A late-night vote Wednesday helped Rep. J. Paul Brown find $13 million to repair state buildings.

Brown had been defeated earlier in the afternoon when the House was debating the state budget, but he won overwhelming agreement for his plan just before 11 p.m. on a 62-3 vote.

The House passed the state budget 64-1 Thursday morning, the widest margin of victory for any state budget in recent years.

But Brown’s maneuver to fix state buildings might not survive the Senate, which gets the budget next week.

“To me, it just makes sense to go ahead and take care of these projects,” Brown said.

Today’s leaky roof can quickly turn into tomorrow’s expensive electrical problem, he said.

His plan takes the principal out of a trust fund for building maintenance and spends it right away. The fund was once flush with cash, and legislators had used the interest to pay for repair projects. But over the years, lawmakers have raided the fund for a variety of reasons unrelated to building maintenance.

The Legislature’s budget committee took a baby step in refilling the fund this year by adding $13 million, but Brown’s plan would spend all the money now.

Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, pushed hard for the budget committee to set aside money in the trust fund. It serves as an important cash reserve for many purposes, he said.

“Without this, we might not have a lot of liquid assets to pay for an emergency,” Lambert said.

The state could face hefty costs for a recent wildfire in Jefferson County that destroyed or damaged 25 homes, he said. If more bad fires occur, the Legislature might have to come back into special session to figure out how to pay the bill.

Brown sits on the Capital Development Committee, which sets the priorities for construction and repair work. Next year’s budget funds the most pressing maintenance projects, but the next tier of buildings have some $25 million in repairs waiting to be funded. Brown’s amendment would get the state roughly halfway down that list.

Brown’s district has only two small projects on the second-tier list. Fort Lewis College is in line for $340,000 in new storm sewers, and Western State College in Gunnison also needs a new sewer system.

Even some of Brown’s fellow members of the Capital Development Committee sounded lukewarm on the idea to spend down the trust fund now.

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, said interest earned on the trust fund can make it easier for future legislators to pay for building repairs.

“With many of these things, it’s a tradeoff, whether the needs are now or in the future,” Bacon said.

But Brown thinks maintenance is one of the state’s most pressing needs.

“Before we build another building, we need to take care of the ones we have,” Brown said.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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