(April 6) – In a debate that promises to go well into the night, the House is slowly moving toward preliminary approval of a balanced state budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

In five and a half hours of debate so far, House Democrats have been swatting down numerous Republican attempts to gut funding for critical state programs and making slight tweaks to the state’s funding package.

The ugliest GOP amendment to the “long bill,” SB17-254, called for a doubling of Medicaid copays to fund transportation.

“We have had a bipartisan transportation effort that has come through this chamber,” Speaker Crisanta Duran told the House, alluding to HB17-1242. “But instead we now have an amendment coming forward that says, ‘You know what? We’re going to fill those potholes and we’re going to deal with traffic congestion and we’re going to do it on the backs of those who are sick and we’re going to do it on the backs of those who are vulnerable.’ ”

“This budget achieves a delicate balance between a variety of competing and worthy priorities,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, vice chairwoman of the legislative Joint Budget Committee, which worked for nearly five months to prepare SB17-254. “With our budget restrictions we simply cannot adequately address every need.”    

However, the House did adopt several significant amendments, four sponsored by Democrats, one by Republicans and one with bipartisan sponsorship:

·        An amendment by Reps. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and Jim Wilson, R-Salida, moving existing funding within the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to add $5.4 million for ambulance services for rural Colorado.

·        Majority Leader KC Becker’s amendment repurposing money from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund to restore $16.3 million for affordable housing grants and loans.

·        An amendment by Rep. Phil Covarribuas, R-Brighton, transferring money within the Department of Education and the Department of Higher Education to provide $7.7 million for career and technical education.

·        Dedicating $3.1 million from the governor’s office for energy savings programs administered by the Colorado Energy Office.

·        An amendment by Reps. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs, and Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, dedicating $1.1 million from the governor’s office for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program weatherization operation.

·        An amendment by the House black caucus — Reps. James Coleman, D-Denver; Leslie Herod, D-Denver; Jovan Melton, D-Aurora; Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora; Janet Buckner, D-Aurora; and Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs — to spend marijuana tax revenue to increase funding by $1.5 million for the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program, which funds youth development programs statewide.  

Second-reading debate is expected to go late into the night, as legislators are proposing a combined 93 amendments to the “long bill.”

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