DENVER – Senate Democrats passed a $20.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 over the objections of Republicans who argued it grows government bureaucracy and 14,000 pages of new policies and regulations.
“I believe we missed a rare opportunity to use increased revenues to retire existing debts and increase funding for transportation and public safety,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs).
Before the budget passed the Senate on a 19 to 15 vote Thursday, Cadman expressed support for adding $81 million to public K-12 education and 5 percent to the state’s statutory reserve.
But, he said the budget delivers a 2 percent pay increase for government employees based on an invalid, incomplete salary survey, fails to pay off debts and ignores funding for transportation infrastructure.
Not a penny of the general fund has been invested in the state transportation system since 2000, said Cadman. “We are now suffering from years of neglect.”
He questioned why the budget would continue to fund the Colorado Energy Office which received a scathing audit for lack of accountability for $252 million spent from 2007 – 2012, under the oversight of Democrat Governors Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper.
Under Ritter’s oversight, Cadman said the CEO was dubbed, “The office of boondoggles, moon beams and fairy tales.”
“This office has yet to regain – or even gain – the trust of the public after an audit revealing scandalous mismanagement,” said Cadman.
“We are increasing spending in this budget almost gratuitously,” declared Cadman.
Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) countered that the state’s revenues are expected to increase next year and the budget pays down debts and funds prioritized programs.
“We can’t afford to restore all that we’ve cut but I think we’ve made some very responsible decisions about the state’s priorities,” declared Steadman, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. “We had a lot of difficult decisions to make this year.”
It’s rare for a member of the Joint Budget Committee, which hammers out the budget, to oppose it. But, Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) did just that.
“I cannot support a budget that asks for more money for economic development, while at the same time, the Governor has signed bills into law that attempt to criminalize legal gun ownership, force Colorado companies to leave the state and devastate our hunting and tourism industry,” said Lambert.
Hickenlooper signed into law measures to require universal background checks, charge gun buyers for the background checks and ban magazines higher than 15 rounds.
Opponents of the measures, particularly the magazine restrictions, argue that the state will lose millions of dollars in lost tourism, but also jobs in that industry as well as magazine manufacturing. Magpul, which employs about 400 people, is leaving the state.
The budget, which will be considered by the House, would increase funding levels for the following programs:
- $81 million for K-12 education (excluding a proposed $1 billion statewide tax),
- $22 million to expand child welfare,
- $161 million for higher education, $130 earmarked for capital construction,
- $27 million for mental health, including $19.8 million for a crisis hotline,
- $5.3 million for public defenders’ pay raises,
- $2.9 million for Hickenlooper’s economic development program,
- $2.8 million for victims of the Lower North Fork Fire