Colorado’s budget

An improving fiscal outlook leads to a welcome outbreak of bipartisan consensus

What a difference a few dollars can make – especially if elected officials can work together. In both regards, Colorado voters deserve more of what they have seen in Denver of late.

The state Senate passed Colorado’s 2012-13 budget Thursday on a 30-5 vote. The budget had already cleared the state House on a 64-1 vote. State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and state Rep. J.Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, both voted yes. Overall, the budget got 94 yes votes out of a possible 100 members of the General Assembly, a remarkable tally, the like of which no serving legislator has ever seen.

Much of that reflects the fact that economic forecasters said last month that Colorado has almost $200 million left for budget year 2012-13 – even after allowing for the approximately $99 million it cost to restore the property tax exemption for seniors.

That extra money also allowed the Legislature to keep per-student funding for schools at the same level as last year, the first time in three years school spending has not been cut. That is a modest success, one we can only hope represents the beginning of a turnaround for school funding.

The Legislature was also able to resume sending severance-tax money to local communities affected by gas drilling and production. In recent years, the Legislature had diverted those funds to help balance the state’s budget. Now those communities can boost their spending on infrastructure and other areas affected by gas development. Roberts has been a vocal proponent of returning those funds to their intended recipients and should be proud to see it done.

Brown did not succeed in getting the state to spend the $13 million in a trust fund for building upkeep, although it is hard to know who had the high ground in that argument. Brown is surely right that timely maintenance saves money, but there is also merit in maintaining a reserve.

Everybody is happier when the fights are about how to spend and not where to cut, particularly in that the state’s budget has already been cut to the bone and beyond. But there was something else as well. That all six votes against the budget were from Republicans proves nothing. The GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly supported it as did the Democratic Senate.

That was a bipartisan success may not be as good as finding extra money, but it is welcome nonetheless.