Budget, school finance still to be settled before session ends

Looking out the window in Denver, watching a snowstorm worthy of a freezing, wintry day, I wonder if Easter is really just around the corner, or maybe we’re back to Christmas? It’s especially hard to square this storm with the 75-degree weather we just had the previous day.

Although the weather seems confusing, the calendar is not, and we have just a few weeks left to this legislative session. As the time winds down, the pace at the Capitol becomes a little more frantic as legislators scurry to get their bills passed before the clock strikes midnight on the last day allowed, according to the Colorado constitution. The 120th day this year falls on May 7.

Colorado’s General Assembly meets for four months each year to accomplish one primary task: pass the state’s budget. We must balance the state’s books, as no deficit spending is allowed.

The recession’s effects still linger in many areas of the state, but the revenue has sufficiently improved that. Thankfully, we no longer are raiding places like severance taxes.

The annual budget bill still is not through the final phases of legislative approval but is in the Joint Budget Committee’s hands as committee members reconcile the House and Senate versions of the 2014-15 budget. The state’s budget year starts July 1, rather than on a calendar-year cycle.

The Senate has yet to receive the two K-12 education bills, one known as the Student Success Act and the annual school finance bill. At the request of some of my constituents, I’ve asked Legislative Council staff who work in the area of education to provide me with future-year projections based on the formulas used in this year’s proposals.

This will be useful information, but only to a point, as it’s important to remember that no legislature can bind a future legislature from changing funding approaches. Still, this information will help evaluate the bill proponents’ promises and intentions. If you would like to receive the additional data, email me or call my Capitol office, and we’ll get that to you.

We’re also at the time when partisan politics becomes more obvious as the majority party leaders seek to get campaign gotcha votes on vulnerable legislators. I point to the majority party on this because, by now, the minority party has had those type of bills already killed.

This is not new, and both sides of the aisle play this game when they hold the reins of power. But it’s always disturbing to me as we veer off into more strident political rhetoric and drama. We should resist caving in to the election cycle and instead remain focused on the priorities of Colorado residents, but I can be accused of being Pollyanna.

I’d like to thank my legislative aide this year, Ezra Riggs, for the fine service he’s provided to my constituents and me. Ezra has worked for me for three legislative sessions, having started as a college intern, and now is a veteran legislative aide. He grew up in the San Luis Valley and knows rural Colorado. His job is part-time and doesn’t pay much, but he’s a great help in answering your calls, helping me find my papers and keeping things in order. Thanks, Ezra!

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Call her at (303) 866-4884, or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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