Lawmakers tentatively OK $17.6 billion Colorado budget
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Lawmakers tentatively approved a $17.6 billion state budget on Wednesday after Democrats blocked an attempt to force the state to return $118 million being collected from taxpayers from a freeze on mill levies for homeowners.
Republicans claimed it represents a tax increase that should go to the voters. Democrats said homeowners in 38 school districts this year would still see a tax cut.
Republicans also tried to block the state from adding some of the 1,334 new state employees in the next fiscal year beginning July 1, warning those employees may have to be laid off if the economy turns sour.
Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said the budget will hurt families “at a time when we are headed into a recession.”
“We believe the budget growth is putting the squeeze on Colorado families,” she said. “We cannot in good conscience force Coloradans to foot the bill for increased government bureaucracy.”
House members drafted 77 amendments to the budget, but only four were approved. They include transferring $1.5 million from gambling impact funds for community college courses on renewable energy, spending $200,000 in general funds for family and youth drug courts in rural areas and paying for a portion of 21 new oil and gas drilling inspectors using the severance tax trust fund.
They also voted to strip the Department of Public Health and Environment of funding for the Office of Health Disparities, which provides help to minorities including education about cancer and heart disease. Lawmakers claimed they were misled by the department into thinking the program would be funded by private grants when the department knew the funding was expiring.
Adam Eichberg, lobbyist for the department, said state budget officials never asked about the funding and rejected suggestions that lawmakers were misled.
Democrats said the property tax freeze did not increase taxes and predicted the state will win a court challenge. They said the 1,334 new employees are needed, including 267 for corrections and 221 for the judiciary, because lawmakers voted to get tough on crime.
Other new positions are contract workers being hired as full-time state employees because state personnel rules require contract workers to take a break every six months, disrupting state government.
Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said the panel had to make tough choices.
“Do you want more criminals on the street, or safe communities for our kids? Do you want sick kids who become sick adults, or healthy kids who grow up to be strong, productive members of the community?” he asked his colleagues.
The Buddy Program rang in the holiday spirit with their annual Gingerbread House Workshops in Aspen and Carbondale.