(April 9) – The House formally approved the state budget today, voting 45-20 to make modest increases in high-priority areas like education and transportation and avoiding injury from bumping up against the Colorado constitution’s budget ceiling.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, vice chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee, noted the difficulties of operating under the TABOR cap, the constitutional provision that prevents public schools, roads and other state government programs and services from rebounding from the Great Recession as quickly as the rest of the state’s economy. This year’s budget includes more than $244 million in mandatory set-asides for TABOR refunds and more than $1 billion in other spending earmarked by statute.

“We’ve been forced to make tough choices,” Rep. Hamner told the House this morning. “Some would say that’s a good thing. Others would say we need to change the way our state government operates.”

“That’s a conversation that surely will continue,” she continued. “But our job on the Joint Budget Committee this year has been to play the hand we’ve been dealt.”

She credited “a process of compromise and bipartisanship” for getting the job done.

“This was a collaborative process,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, who also serves on the six-member JBC. “There were no losers, which means the winners were the people of Colorado.”

Some budget highlights:

· $10.9 billion in general fund spending and $26.4 billion overall.
· Nearly $200 million more for K-12 education, and an additional $25 million to reduce the “negative factor,” the state’s shortfall in K-12 spending.
· $95 million more for higher education.
· More than $100 million additional in transportation funding.
· A 1.7 percent reimbursement rate increase for social services providers.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished together and I am proud of the budget that we are about to pass,” Rep. Hamner said before the vote, in which all 34 House Democrats were joined by 11 Republican members in support of SB15-234.

The next debate on the “long bill” will be back in the JBC, which will be appointed to serve as a conference committee to work out differences between House and Senate amendments.

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