DENVER – The proposed $19 billion state budget for fiscal year 2012-13 moved to the Senate on Thursday after the House approved the bill, 64-1 – the lone “nay” vote was cast by Rep. Chris Holbert (R-Castle Rock).
Dubbed the “long bill,“ the budget measure set a record for its nearly unanimous support in House, but its passage followed nine hours of debate over proposed amendments – primarily by Democrats – on Wednesday night.
The Joint Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen) faced its biggest challenge in reaching an accord on $7.5 billion in allocations from the general fund, which allows for discretionary spending.
“I’m incredibly proud that we were able to pass a budget out of the House with 64 votes,” said Waller.
Several legislators were perplexed by Holbert’s vote against the budget. Some speculated that he aimed to please the Colorado Union of Taxpayers that disseminated budget-opposition flyers to Republican lawmakers on Thursday.
Others said his discontent stemmed from a Republican caucus meeting on Monday when leadership called for unity and shot down a proposed budget amendment regarding abortion and Planned Parenthood. In 1984, Colorado became the first state to ban state funds for abortion.
“He’s been sulking since Monday,” said a Republican legislator. “Like anybody else, Holbert could have introduced the amendment, but he didn’t.”
Holbert told The Denver Post that the amendment had nothing to do with his vote against the budge – it simply was not fiscally conservative in his estimation.
“This budget is a responsible budget, one that increases funding for education, protects our seniors, invests in our students and helps build a better Colorado,” declared House Speaker Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch).
The proposed budget would help seniors by restoring $98.5 million to the Homestead Property Tax Exemption and increasing funds for the old age pension program and dental services.
Though Gov. John Hickenlooper had proposed cuts to the education, the proposed JBC budget increases K-12 and higher education, and maintains more than $100 million in the State Education Fund. Assistant Majority Leader Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) succeeded Wednesday in amending the long bill to transfer $4.2 million from the Department of Corrections to bolster funding for full-day kindergarten education.
“The GOP seems to think our recovery from the Bush recession is complete and everything is hunky-dory,” said House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) in a statement about the defeat of nearly 40 amendments proposed by Democrats on Wednesday.
“It’s pitiful to see the Republicans sit on their hands when there are so many people across the state who are still knocking on the door to opportunity,” said Ferrandino.
Ferrandino and the Democrats were dismayed that their amendments were killed Wednesday. Among those was an amendment by Rep. Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood) to take $5.4 million from private prisons for the Early Childhood Literacy Act, which was favored by Hickenlooper, passed the House last week, and is now in the Senate for consideration.
“Using the money we have saved by closing prisons, we can move the next generation of Colorado away from the jail houses and into the world economy,” said Kerr, referencing the budget cuts to private prisons and closure of the Canyon City-based state Penitentiary II, which will trim $13.5 million from the budget by 2013.
Ferrandino also wanted to expand Hickenlooper’s Economic Development Commission that offers incentives to attract new companies to Colorado and keep existing entities, target $5 million to launch the “Tech Transfer” program to help businesses move products into the marketplace, and provide $550,000 for boost economic development for two small business programs.
Despite all of the debate and denial of the Democrats’ amendments, members of the JBC committee including Gerou and Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) urged bi-partisan support for the bill that was crafted by the equally split Democrat and Republican, 6-member committee.
“I would like to commend Representative Levy for standing up to her party,” said House Majority Whip B.J. Nikkel (R-Loveland). “Time and again, Representative Levy pointed out that House Democrats’ amendments were unnecessary and wrong.”
That observation rippled across the state. The Fort Collins Coloradan summed up the marathon bill passage as Democrat lawmakers who proposed “amendments shifting money away from spending on private prisons to pet projects and most were not offered in a serious manner nor considered in a serious manner. Some of the amendments were so banal they focused on whether state money could be used for vasectomies.”
When the bill is debated in the Senate, the same Democrat-sponsored amendments will likely have more success and be eventually ironed out in the conference committee.