With little wiggle room, Colorado House debates $26.8 billion budget | AspenTimes.com

With little wiggle room, Colorado House debates $26.8 billion budget

DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s Democrat-led House is debating a $26.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 with little leeway for substantial changes — but that didn’t stop lawmakers from offering dozens of amendments to fund roads construction or send statements to their constituencies.

Among the 93 amendments that were up for offer Thursday:

— Republican proposals to eliminate Colorado’s driver’s license program for immigrants living here illegally; end Medicaid eligibility for adults without dependent children to send more money to rural schools and hospitals; and eliminate nearly $14 million for student tests in public schools.

— Democratic bids to add $500,000 for inmate pay; restore $3 million in film incentives; add $16.3 million in marijuana funding for a homeless program advocated by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper; and eliminate $1.2 million for polygraphs for sex offenders on probation or parole.

Debate in the House, where Democrats hold a 37-28 advantage over Republicans, was expected to last well into the night, with a final budget vote Friday. The GOP-led Senate passed its budget version last week, so Friday’s final vote will send it to the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee that drafted the budget in the first place.

There wasn’t much wiggle room for legislators, who by law must produce a balanced budget under constitutional constraints on spending and revenues. Budget-writers largely eliminated a $700 million deficit with severe cuts to a federal matching grant program that mostly sustains rural hospitals.

They also sliced transportation funding to just $79 million — well short of maintenance needs, let alone construction.

With transportation construction a top goal of lawmakers this session, House Republicans offered a host of roads-funding amendments Thursday. One would take money from Medicaid; another, from higher education; another, by taking $1.2 million from the governor’s own budget-writing office. Rep. Patrick Neville, the minority leader, sought $315 million through across-the-board budget cuts except for K-12 education.

Legislators are counting on something to emerge for roads from other bills. One would generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually if voters approve. Another calls, in part, for transportation bonds without a tax hike.

Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Dave Williams proposed eliminating $1.5 million to support the immigrant driver’s license program — a no-go with Democrats.
James Anderson can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jandersonap

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