Colorado Democrats move ahead with ending budget limits |

Colorado Democrats move ahead with ending budget limits

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Democrats in the Senate plan to move ahead with a plan to change budget limits without Republicans after negotiations between the two sides broke down.

Earlier this week, majority Democrats in the chamber delayed debate on the measure to consider a counter proposal from Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry. But sponsor Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said Friday Penry’s proposals won’t stop the budget from being stuck at recessionary levels after the economy improves.

Morse thinks many Republicans in the Senate are actually libertarians who don’t believe in government, and that makes it hard to find middle ground.

“They’re not really thinking about solving this problem. They’re thinking about their politics,” said Morse, who planned to ask for a second vote on the bill Monday.

The measure passed a first vote last week after a 10-hour Republican filibuster protesting the bill.

At issue is a state law passed in 1991 that limits the operating side of the state’s budget, including services like higher education, schools and prisons, from growing by more than 6 percent above what was spent the previous year. Any tax dollars left over after that must be spent first on transportation and then building construction projects.

The bill would eliminate those requirements and allow lawmakers to spend tax dollars wherever they wish. It wouldn’t allow the government to spend any more money than under the current rules because the Taxpayers Bill of Rights limits how much tax revenue the state can keep. Lawmakers have long believed the budget limit was constituionalized by TABOR, but bill backers say that legal interpretation is wrong.

Because of the recession, this year there’s only enough money available to increase the budget by about 4 percent. That means next year the budget could grow only 6 percent above this year’s lower amount. Spending more than 6 percent won’t be a possibility until the economy recovers, but without a change, bill backers say that cumulative “ratchet” effect will hamstring the operating budget even after revenues rebound with the economy.

Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the “ratchet” was a fair topic to debate but said the voters should be the ones to decide whether it’s changed. He said Democrats were exaggerating its effect to try get rid of the limit altogether during the recession.

“They want flexibility so they can spend every red penny,” he said.

After the economy recovered, one of Penry’s proposals would have allowed the state to spend above the 6 percent limit to restore cuts made during the recession once money was spent on roads. However, that extra money wouldn’t be used in the base to calculate how much the budget would grow in future years.

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