DENVER " A statewide shortage of oil and gas workers prompted state lawmakers to broaden a plan Tuesday to spend $1.5 million more for renewable energy programs at community colleges.
With lawmakers fighting for every penny, Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said he will fight for the money as the Senate debates the state's $17.6 billion budget this week.
Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said the money should be used to train workers for the entire energy industry, not just renewable energy. He said colleges that train workers are having a hard time keeping teachers, because they can make more money working in the oil and gas industry.
"We need to get money out there so we can keep those teachers," Isgar told the Democratic budget caucus.
That plan has drawn opposition from other Western Slope lawmakers, who said the money had been set aside for a second year of construction and environmental cleanup work on Colorado 119 and Colorado 6 near Interstate 70, roads which lead to the gambling towns of Central City and Black Hawk.
Under the proposed budget, state colleges and universities would get $63 million more than they did last year and research institutions like the University of Colorado would be able to raise their tuition as much as 9.5 percent. Community colleges would only be able to raise tuition by 5.5 percent although officials aren't sure their students could afford that big of an increase.
Democratic Sen. Moe Keller, a member of the Joint Budget Committee that drafted the budget, said she would fight attempts to take the money from road projects.
Democrats also said they would try to find more money for the state Board of Education, which had $44,000 slashed from its budget over reports of lavish spending that included expensive meals, themed catering and valet parking.
Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, said the state could find $36,500 by cutting four low-income scholarships after the board offered to slash expenses by $7,500.
She said the board's expenses were so high because board chairwoman Pamela Jo Suckla has to commute 385 miles at least once a month from her home in Slickrock on the Western Slope, rent cars and stay in hotels, while other board members live along the Front Range.
She said members have to stay at hotels like the tony Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs because that's where educational conferences are held. She said the board had to pay $2,028 to take 17 state employees, including themselves, and 11 others to dine at a restaurant in Telluride because it was the only restaurant that could handle a crowd that size.