With Bipartisan Support, Colorado Passes Largest Budget Ever

by | May 4, 2016

By Megan Schrader

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the state's $25.8 billion budget Tuesday afternoon praising the Colorado penchant for hammering out bipartisan balanced budgets through a somewhat unique process that puts the 581-page bill in the hands of six lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee.

"We do it better in Colorado," Hickenlooper said.

Faith in that process was part of the reason he chose not to exercise a line-item veto on a cut in funding to the department that was working to implement the politically charged Clean Power Plan.

"If the JBC is going to sign off on something 6-0 ... I don't want to make a political statement," the second-term Democrat said.

In the end the cut to the Air Pollution Control Division in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was only a fraction of what Republicans initially proposed, just over $100,000.

Democrats had a corresponding victory however, providing $2.5 million to CDPHE for a program that provides long-acting reversible contraception to low income and uninsured women, a program Republicans were able to avoid funding in 2015.

Despite those small feuds, the budget passed with at least some bipartisan support this year. In the Senate it passed 30-5 and in the House it passed 39-26, with only five Republicans supporting it.

Sen. Kent Lambert, a Colorado Springs Republican and senior member of the JBC, joked Tuesday that as a conservative Republican it was hard to support the state's largest budget ever.

"I feel so dirty," Lambert said.

Both sides praised what the budget was able to accomplish: increasing the per-student funding to $7,425, a $112 increase; avoided a $20 million cut to higher education called for by the governor's early draft budget; $6.1 million will fund about 100 caseworkers in county child-welfare departments; $2.2 million for about 36 new security officers at 10 state-run Youth Corrections facilities; and $150 million was transferred to the Highway Users Tax Fund to support transportation infrastructure.

But there were substantial cuts, including a strategic cut to a fee that helps fund Medicaid to avoid paying taxpayer refunds in the 2016 tax year that otherwise would have been required under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. That cut also contributed to a $49.5 million decrease in provider fees for Medicaid primary care providers.

(c)2016 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)