House approves $17.6 billion budget amid warnings of crisis
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” The Colorado House approved and sent to the Senate a $17.6 billion state budget on Thursday that Democrats said will allow the state to make investments in the future of children, including their health, their safety and education.
Republicans warned that the state could be headed toward another fiscal train wreck and said it was irresponsible not to set aside some of that money for a rainy day.
The budget will allow 22,000 more children to attend full-day kindergarten, provide preschool for 3,000 more children and provide 70 new school counselors to help students stay in school and go on to college.
It adds $53 million for higher education, including higher stipends for Colorado residents, and provide $10 million in financial aid. The budget also covers enrolling 50,000 more children in health care programs.
The House provided $30 million to reduce the waiting list to care for developmentally disabled children.
John Haley, a 61-year-old retired Conoco employee, said the increased funding for the developmentally disabled will help his 21-year-old daughter, Anne, who has Down’s syndrome and needs constant care.
“We can’t even go out of town because someone has to be there to look after Anne,” he said at a news conference with legislative leaders.
He said his daughter is 14th on the state’s waiting list, but the only way to move up is for someone to die or move away.
“This budget is not a matter of math, it’s a matter of life and death,” said House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver.
The budget passed 40-24, mostly along party lines, and now goes to the Senate.
House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said he voted against the budget because the state needs to set aside money to avoid the same kind of fiscal crisis that forced the state to cut billions of dollars when the economy soured six years ago.
Republicans said it’s irresponsible not to set money aside now because economic forecasts already show a $694 million shortfall over the next five years.
They also warned the state could be forced to refund $118 million to taxpayers if the state loses a lawsuit over a decision by Democrats and Gov. Bill Ritter to raise more money by freezing homeowner mill levies, which otherwise likely would drop. Republicans say the state Constitution requires a public vote because a freeze would amount to tax increases.
May said Republicans dropped the ball when they controlled the Legislature and had a chance to set up a rainy day fund. He said he doesn’t want to make that mistake again.
May said the state no longer has a financial cushion because lawmakers raided cash funds, including fees paid for parks and wildlife, and failed to pay them back. That resulted in a class-action lawsuit in 2004 accusing the state of raiding several state funds of $442 million to balance the budget. The state won and the money was never repaid.
“The ongoing concern is that every dime is being spent in this budget. We don’t know where this economy is headed,” he said.
Pitkin County’s elected officials are looking to a citizen group to make recommendations on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit impacts from growth and development.