(April 17) — Many months of careful preparation and bipartisan cooperation paid off big for Colorado’s annual budget blueprint today, as the so-called “long bill” – SB15-234 — passed the Colorado Senate with flying colors today on a 31 to 2 vote. Despite some late Conference Committee negotiating, it was little changed from the budget package presented by the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee three weeks ago.
The budget, which passed the House on Wednesday on a 45-20 vote, now lands on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk.
“The bottom line is that we’re in balance and we’re on time,” said Joint Budget Committee Chairman Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs), “which is a reflection of the generally good working relationship we’ve had not just among committee members, but between committee members and their respective caucuses. Not everybody got everything they wanted, but we made progress in finding common ground due to good communication and a bipartisan willingness to listen to what all four caucuses had to say.”
“We have a budget that invests in the future of Colorado,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, vice chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee. “We were able to increase funding for education, child welfare, transportation, senior services and capital construction while providing for constitutionally mandated refunds to taxpayers.”
Key 2015/16 budget highlights include:
· Total gross general fund revenues – the largest in state history: $10.25 billion;
· General Fund revenue growth of 6.2% in FY15/16;
· TABOR refunds of $69.7 million in FY14/15 and $116.8 million in FY15/16;
· Total transfers to State Education Fund of $563.3 million;
· Year-over-year general fund increase to K-12 education is $209 million, a 3.3% hike;
· A $25 million payment to the state’s school districts, reducing the so-called “negative factor”;
· Medicaid spending increased by 12%;
· Year-over-year General Fund increase to higher education of $95 million;
· The Department of Higher Education received an overall 11% increase in funding over last year;
· All higher education institutions will receive a minimum 10% increase over last year;
· Increased state salaries by 1% and merit pay by 1%;
· Increased non-Health Service Premium provider rates by 1.7% (The Governor’s request was 1%);
· $397 million total funds for construction projects, including almost $120 million for IT projects and $105 million for transportation projects.
“This is a budget that reflects the priorities of the people of Colorado,” said Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. “This has been a strong bipartisan effort on the part of both parties and both chambers. I expect a quick signature by Governor Hickenlooper.”
Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, praised the budget-writing committee for setting a standard of thoughtful deliberation, cooperation and transparency that would be hard to top.
“That this budget emerged largely intact is a testament to the transparent and truly collaborative way it was put together by the Joint Budget Committee,” said Cadman. “The careful thought and thorough debate the committee gave to every budget trade-off helped ensure that extreme or extremely costly changes just wouldn’t fly.”