DENVER – The Long Bill allocating $23 billion in state spending for the upcoming fiscal year moved to the Senate this week where it will likely be embroiled in battles over amendments offered by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Though House Democrats portrayed the budget as a bipartisan effort, the majority party previously struck down nearly every amendment offered by Republican legislators to House Bill 1336.
Democrats nixed Republican proposals to increase the Colorado College Fund to lower tuition costs for in-state students, and allocate up to $40 million to K-12 public schools to offset nearly $1 billion in drastic budget cuts during the recession.
Joint Budget Committee Chair Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver) repeatedly opposed the amendments because House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) and other Republican lawmakers had failed to request the funding while the committee was crafting the state budget.
“(I) reached out several times to find out what the priorities are for bills to be funded,” said Duran. “Not once did I receive a response, and I did that in a good faith effort.”
“Unfortunately, every time I reached out all I heard was crickets,” Duran said.
Rep. Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) shot back that Duran had brushed off his numerous attempts over the past year to fund enforcement of Colorado’s law making repeat DUI convictions a felony. In a last ditch effort, Waller offered an amendment requesting $1.7 million, but it was defeated by Democrats.
After Duran repeatedly chastised DelGrosso and Republicans, committee member Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen) threatened to pull her name off the Long Bill during the second reading Thursday night.
“If there is not due respect given to everybody in this assembly, I will pull my name off,” Gerou said. “There is no reason that any of you should be insulted by snide comments.”
“This is your budget, you get to decide what’s in this budget,” said Gerou, clarifying that is the purpose of considering amendments proposed by legislators.
The Democrats fought but finally approved amendments to reprioritize capital construction projects and fund a bill sponsored by Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Littleton) to set minimum sentences for those convicted of vehicular homicide while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Democrats balked but passed an amendment offered by Republican Reps. Don Coram of Montrose and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling that would provide $5 million to mitigate invasive trees and shrubs that deplete about 250,000 acre feet of water in the state.
“Of all the budgets we have voted on, this is the one I’m most proud of because we’re doing the right thing for the people of Colorado,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver).
DelGrosso disagreed and criticized Democrats for refusing to touch $150 million that’s squirreled away for “pre-blessed” legislation, including some measures that have yet to be introduced and assigned a bill number.
“Somehow we’re not even allowed to address that pot of money,” he complained.
“There’s more than $50 million in the budget being spent on Obamacare,” said DelGrosso, who recalled being told “it’s going to be way down the road that the state has to starting picking up a small percentage of the tab.”
“We’re already spending $50 million that could be put toward other needs we have,” said the Minority Speaker, who urged Republicans to vote against the Long Bill.
The House passed the budget bill Friday on a partisan vote of 37 to 27, after hours of heated debate over more than 40 amendments – most of those proposed by Republicans were flatly rejected. The lone Republican voting with the Democrats was Gerou.