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‘Final’ $28.3 billion Colorado budget heads back to floor

Lawmakers increase education spending in closing days of session

DENVER – Colorado’s $28.3 billion budget continues to inch toward approval by the state Legislature.

On Thursday, it was rebalanced and approved by the Joint Budget Committee that crafted the original.

That was necessary because of the 32 amendments attached to it by the two chambers.

The biggest change, though, had nothing to do with the amendments tacked on by their colleagues, but from the JBC itself, which approved an increase in funding for K-12 education based on new projections of the Gallagher Amendment.

The amendment dictates property tax assessment rates, the primary source of local funding for schools. Since the amendment was adopted in 1982, the assessment rate has fallen by nearly two-thirds of the original 21 percent.

The change in projections allowed the JBC to free up $128 million, which was promptly allocated to close the $48.8 million increase to the K-12 negative factor. The remaining $79.6 million was put into the State Education Fund, essentially a savings account for when state funding for education falls short.

“The good news and good timing of the Gallagher information was perfect for us to close the Long Bill without having to increase the negative factor, so I think that is probably the biggest news,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Denver.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, voted against backfilling the negative factor.

“It is an artificial standard that is being put in place that could be applied to every department in the state of Colorado,” Lundberg said.

Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Glenwood Springs, said he too had issue with backfilling the negative factor, but voted for the budget, as the JBC had committed to keeping it flat.

The larger issue Rankin had was the use of the excess funding.

Rankin contended that it should go toward transportation infrastructure, which took a $110 million cut during the balancing process.

“My constituents out west … have always wanted to put more priority in funding transportation and yet we’ve got this $79 million and were going to put it basically in reserves for next year’s education funding,” he said.

Finding money for transportation has been a priority of House Republicans but has been shot down at every turn by the Democratic majority in the chamber.

As the money freed up Thursday was originally dedicated to K-12, the majority of the JBC decided that was where it should stay.

The Long Bill must be reapproved by both chambers, where it heads Monday, before it can go to Gov. John Hickenlooper and be signed into law.

But there is a catch. Normally a bill must be signed or vetoed within 10 days unless fewer than 10 days remain in the session, which there will be when the budget heads to him on Monday.

So Hickenlooper has 30 days to veto portions of the budget if he chooses to do so before signing it, and the Legislature would be unable to change it unless they called a special session.

“I would be really surprised if the governor did that to us,” Hamner said.


Approved budget amendments

Several the 32 amendments attached to the Long Bill stuck, including:

Providing $44,041 for the implementation of the Colorado End of Life Options Act.

Appropriating $745,000 for the Healthy Kid’s Survey, which some Republicans thought could lead to “moral decay” of children by exposing them to questions about sexual activity, drug use and suicide too early.

Reassignment of $9.45 million for the deployment of broadband infrastructure in rural areas of Colorado.

Shifting of $40,000 in the Department of Corrections to provide tampons for convicts.

Assigning $1.5 million for film subsidies attract Hollywood producers to Colorado.

Maintaining a cut in salary increases for the judicial department, which also would have increased the wages of the legislators who crafted the Long Bill.

Adding $125,000 in grants for service to career training programs for veterans.

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