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Colorado House approves $40.6 billion amended state budget

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) The Colorado House of Representatives approved the state’s $40.6 billion budget and its accompanying bills Monday, approaching the end of the constitutionally-required, months-long process to craft a balanced spending plan.

The long bill, as the budget legislation is known, passed on a 46-18 vote, with one member excused. It includes about a dozen amendments lawmakers approved last week during a marathon debate.

“We have a responsibility to govern and at the end of the day, the budget is about how we fund governance in the state of Colorado. I take that responsibility seriously,” Representative Shannon Bird, a Westminster Democrat who chairs the budget-writing Joint Budget Committee, told colleagues ahead of the final vote. “This document, filled with spending, will benefit constituents across the entire state in every one of our districts.”

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In debate before the final vote on the long bill, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1, Republicans objected to the overall growth of the budget and state government, as well as the defeat of their priorities from last week’s amendment battle.

“These are people who, generationally, have had to tighten their belts over and over and over again,” Assistant Minority Leader Ty Winter, a Trinidad Republican, said of his constituents. “They are a group of people who just don’t understand, while they’re tightening their belts, why the government doesn’t have to.”

The core of the budget funds the operating expenses of the departments, agencies and programs that make up the state government. This year’s $2 billion overall budget increase, reflects bumps in spending for public education, governmental workforce and behavioral health services.

“We weren’t able to do everything. Money is limited. That’s evidenced by the fact that there were over $100 million in amendments,” Bird said.

In the end, House lawmakers signed off on an increase of about $11 million in general fund revenue — the money that primarily comes from taxes — for various amendments offered by non-JBC members.

That includes $6.1 million from the general fund for senior services in the Department of Human Services, an amendment offered by Representative Mary Young, a Greeley Democrat, Representative Mary Bradfield, a Colorado Springs Republican, and Representative Jenny Willford, a Northglenn Democrat. The amendment would eliminate the current waitlist for services like in-home and congregate meals, transportation, in-home help, adult day care and case management through the Office of Adults, Aging and Disability Services.

These are people who, generationally, have had to tighten their belts over and over and over again ... They are a group of people who just don’t understand, while they’re tightening their belts, why the government doesn’t have to.

– Assistant Minority Leader Ty Winter, about his constituents

Another amendment from Democratic Representatives Jennifer Bacon of Denver and Matthew Martinez of Monte Vista would add $1.5 million from the general fund for the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program, which supports community-based violence prevention and intervention programs for minors and their families. Part of the amendment’s funding mechanism would take money from an auto-theft public service announcement.

A bipartisan amendment from Representative Lorena Garcia, an Adams County Democrat, and Representative Matt Soper, a Delta Republican, would reduce the appropriation for new prison beds and shift the money to reentry workforce development, competency restoration and targeted crime reduction, among other programs.

There were two different prison caseload estimates this year from the Division of Criminal Justice and Legislative Legal Services — one outlined a need of over 100 beds and the other estimated a surplus. The JBC used the former for its work.

“This complete and wild differentiation is one of the reasons why it’s important to scrutinize this element a little bit closer,” Garcia said.

An amendment that initially passed on the floor on Thursday would have provided $2 million from the general fund for the School Security Disbursement Grant Program. That program, enacted by 2023 legislation, gives schools and districts money for projects intended to improve school safety, such as training in student threat assessment, school emergency response training and school resource officer implementation, among other uses.

The amendment was brought by Representative Brandi Bradley, a Littleton Republican, who introduced a bill this session to infuse a similar amount of money into the program for the purpose of providing schools with firearm detection software. That bill passed its first committee and awaits an appropriations committee hearing.

Though Bradley’s amendment passed during second reading on a voice vote, it was pulled back later in the day and failed through a recorded 33-24 vote, after eight Republicans — including Bradley — had left for the day in order to attend a Republican special congressional nomination convention in Hugo.

“(The amendment) wasn’t about my bill,” Bradley said on Monday during the budget’s third reading. “What this amendment was, was a choice for schools to individually decide what makes them safer.”

A separate budget amendment to add $200,000 to the school security fund, brought by Democratic Representative Regina English of Colorado Springs, successfully made it through.

A clean, unamended version of the budget now heads to the Senate for consideration. Senators will offer their own amendments this week, and the JBC will need to decide whether to remove any before passing it to Democratic Governor Jared Polis for his signature.

Democrats hold strong majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.