Colorado Legislature sends amended $36 billion budget to Gov. Polis
Committee keeps funding boost for youth programs, rejects 3% raise for state troopers
Joint Budget Committee member Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, stands next to JBC Chair Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, during House debate over the 2023 budget March 30, 2022. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
Colorado legislators approved a revised version of the $36.4 billion budget for next fiscal year, which included a handful of House- and Senate-passed amendments that lawmakers on a powerful conference committee decided to keep. Now, the budget package heads to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat.
The conference committee — made up of lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee, who also drafted the original budget bill — rejected other amendments that had earned enough support to pass one or both chambers, drawing considerable consternation.
House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, a Loveland Republican, expressed frustration that the JBC rejected an extra 3% pay increase for short-staffed state troopers. Both the House and Senate had approved the change.
“I think it’s wrong that when we have the 100 members of the state legislature speaking as the majority in both bodies that say this is something we want to do, we should find a way to do it,” McKean said on the House floor Thursday. “The core function of government … especially in a year when crime is rampant, is public safety.”
“I absolutely raise up (state troopers’) hard work, dedication and the challenges we are facing in recruitment and retention,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie, the Dillon Democrat who chairs the Joint Budget Committee. “But making decisions about compensation for this state on the fly through a budget amendment is not responsible governance.”
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McCluskie pointed out that all state employees, including state troopers, had received a 3% pay increase in the budget, and said the Joint Budget Committee had plans to look at compensation for State Patrol, Department of Corrections and Colorado Parks and Wildlife employees holistically next year.
The House of Representatives passed the amended budget Thursday afternoon on a party-line vote of 39-24, with two Democrats, Reps. Kyle Mullica of Federal Heights and Steven Woodrow of Denver, excused. The Senate voted 22-12, with Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail excused, to approve the budget earlier Thursday. There, Republican Sens. Don Coram of Montrose, Kevin Priola of Henderson and Bob Rankin of Carbondale joined Democrats in the “yes” camp.
The state budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, which begins July 1, includes a 12.1% increase in spending from the general fund, mostly comprising income and sales tax revenue. That includes an increase of more than $1 billion for the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing as pandemic-era enhanced federal funding for Medicaid expires and more responsibility for the subsidized health care program shifts back to the state. Funding for the Department of Education is set to grow 11.7% as the state share of funding for K-12 education increases by $195 million, reducing the budget stabilization factor — the amount of money that lawmakers owe schools based on a funding formula, but choose not to prioritize — to $321 million, a 12-year low.
The budget debate and amendment process is a last-minute grab for state resources that’s seen as a headache by JBC members — who spend months weighing various considerations to balance the budget — and a golden opportunity by lobbyists and lawmakers hoping to fund their own priorities. When the Joint Budget Committee met Wednesday as the conference committee on the budget, known as the “long bill,” they considered which amendments to keep out of those that passed in the House, Senate or both over the last two weeks.
Below are some highlights from the amendments that made the cut in conference committee, and those that didn’t.
- An amendment sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a Denver Democrat, and Rep. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat, sought to boost funding for the Collaborative Management Program in the Department of Human Services, which supports counties, school districts and mental health organizations that work together to provide services for low-income children, youth and families involved with the criminal or juvenile justice systems. The amendment passed on a 40-24 vote in the House. The JBC voted to keep the change, but reduced the amount from $2 million to $500,000.
- The committee kept another amendment from Gonzales-Gutierrez, also sponsored by Denver Democratic Rep. Jennifer Bacon, to increase funding to the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program. Housed within the Department of Human Services, this program supports local programs for children and families designed to prevent youth crime, violence and marijuana use, and child abuse and neglect. The amendment that passed the House by a 50-14 vote included a $3 million funding increase for the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program, but the JBC cut that amount in half.
- Lawmakers on the committee approved, in part, a change that gave $1 million to the state’s eviction legal defense fund, created through 2019 legislation to pay for legal advice and representation for extremely low-income people at risk of losing their homes. The JBC reduced the amount included in the amendment by half.
- They kept $1 million of a $1.9 million infusion for gray wolf management and reintroduction in the Department of Natural Resources. This amendment was sponsored in the House by Reps. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, and Perry Will, a Republican from New Castle. It passed on a 47-17 vote.
- The JBC kept an amendment to expand Medicaid benefits for prenatal testing, but lawmakers on the panel reduced the amount from $1.57 million to $500,000.
Joint Budget Committee’s rejections
- The committee rejected an amendment to transfer $50 million in federal coronavirus relief money to a community revitalization program supporting creative mixed-use projects that incorporate housing, retail and artist spaces.
- The committee rejected a House-passed amendment to prevent the expansion of the troubled Office of Public Guardianship.
- Lawmakers on the JBC also voted down the House- and Senate-passed amendment that would have given Colorado State Patrol troopers a 3% raise, which would have cost $2.33 million. This is the rejection that drew strong protests from McKean and other Republicans.
- An amendment seeking $3 million from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund for the attorney general’s office to investigate consumer protection and antitrust cases didn’t survive the conference committee. Sponsored in the House by Reps. Marc Snyder of Colorado Springs and Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch, this amendment had passed in both the House and Senate.
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