(April 10) – House Republicans told Coloradans to pound sand this morning when they voted against a state budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The long bill, as it’s called, funds the state’s core services. It is the biggest annual piece of work the legislature conducts and the only bill that it is constitutionally required to produce.

The vote on SB17-254 was 38-27. Only Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, joined the House Democrats in support of the bill. As a member of the legislative Joint Budget Committee, Rep. Rankin is one of the three Republicans (and three Democrats) who drafted the state budget and knows the months of negotiation and bipartisan compromise that went into the document.

“We are very pleased that we have a bipartisan bill for you to vote on today,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, vice chairwoman of the JBC, which worked for months to prepare SB17-254. “It was not easy work.”

“We started with a budget that was a half billion dollars in the hole,” Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, who also sits on the JBC, told the House. “We managed to find a pathway through that.”

Rep. Hamner said the legislature’s budget work this session was not complete. “To really make this budget work,” she told the body, “we need to figure out how to reinvest in our hospitals, particularly in our rural hospitals. We need to figure out how to provide more funding and more resources for our critical infrastructure needs, particularly in the way of transportation.”

She was referring to SB17-267, which would shore up hospital financing and free up funding for K-12 and other key priorities, and HB17-1242, a sweeping plan to upgrade Colorado’s dilapidated transportation system. Both bill have bipartisan sponsors and are awaiting their first Senate hearing.

“We have a real opportunity in front of us to have a positive impact on every Coloradan,” said Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. She called on legislators over the final 30 days of the session to “put problem-solving as a priority to insure that we invest in our rural hospitals and that we come up with a bipartisan, statewide plan to be able to invest in transportation.”

Republicans argued that there’s something wrong with a state budget that is growing, when the real problem is that the budget isn’t growing fast enough to keep pace with Colorado’s expanding economy.

Rep. Hamner noted that the alternatives, including cutting K-12 spending, were unsavory. “Would you have rather that we reduced the senior property tax program?” she asked the House. “Would you have rather that we increased the negative factor? Our choices are not all very pleasant here.”

The long bill is headed back to the Senate, which will consider 26 amendments added by the House during second-reading debate on Friday.

 

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