Colorado lawmakers agree on spending cuts |

Colorado lawmakers agree on spending cuts

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – A rancorous budget debate that had Colorado lawmakers fighting over teachers, farmers and retailers appeared to ease Tuesday when Republicans and Democrats agreed on a spending plan for next year.

Budget writers from both parties ended a spending stalemate that brought work in the Capitol to a virtual halt over the past two weeks.

Though the spending plan still faces review by the full House and Senate, with vigorous debate expected, the tentative agreement by leading Republicans and Democrats marked a turning point for Colorado’s first divided Legislature in a decade.

Democrats said their top priority was to soften K-12 education cuts that stood at $332 million under a proposal by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. The agreement lessens education cuts to about $250 million, a cut that will likely still require teacher layoffs and bigger class sizes.

Republicans insisted that the state resume its practice of returning a small portion of sales taxes to retailers to compensate them for the trouble of collecting the tax. Two years ago, Colorado stopped returning the so-called “vendor fee” of about $60 million a year. The GOP wanted to resume those rebates, arguing that small businesses need the money and would use it to create jobs.

The budget introduced Tuesday restores most, but not all, of the vendor fee, so that retailers would get about $40 million a year for the next three years, with the state keeping the other $20 million or so.

It also erases unpopular sales taxes on agricultural products such as pesticides and software products. In exchange, Republicans seemed to give up on repealing other taxes, such as a sales tax on soda and higher vehicle fees.

The governor urged lawmakers from both parties to settle on the compromise, and Hickenlooper’s budget aides worked closely to shepherd it.

Republican Sen. Bill Cadman said that while Republicans didn’t get everything they wanted, the GOP noticed a big change from being in the minority in both chambers.

“Considering that in most of the time I’ve been here I’ve watched a budget process that changed little … to me this is a huge win,” Cadman said after telling his fellow Republicans about the deal.

Democratic leaders were visibly relieved, too. Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer told his fellow Democrats that the moment it looked like agreement was possible Wednesday, he wanted everyone to shake on it before they could change their minds.

“”I don’t want to jinx this by letting it set, you know? If we come back here tomorrow, who knows what’s going to happen,” Shaffer told the Democrats.

Not everyone was pleased. Told about the software sales tax going away, Democratic Sen. Rollie Health shook his head and said, “not with my support.”

And in a Republican caucus, Sen. Ted Harvey argued that the budget deal fails to tackle creeping problems with how Colorado pays for education and Medicaid.

“I think we’re just kicking the can down the road if we don’t make some serious structural changes and just say we balanced the budget another year,” Harvey said.