Senate panel OKs 2 bills targeting Pinnacol

A budget move that would take insurance-company reserves and put them into Colorado colleges and universities won approval in a legislative committee, but faces several other hurdles.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday passed Senate bills 281 and 283, twin measures aimed at transferring $300 million from the reserves of Pinnacol Assurance to the state institutions of higher education.

Pinnacol has vowed to mount a defense in court to stop lawmakers from taking its reserves.

Pinnacol is a quasi-state enterprise that provides workers’ compensation insurance for Colorado businesses.

The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee has proposed using assets of Pinnacol to offset cuts to higher education spending. Cuts were made this fiscal year and more cuts are proposed as lawmakers try to balance the state budget.

Adams State College officials said the college would have to close if a recommendation of the Joint Budget Committee stands and more than $400 million is sliced from higher education in the state.

The Commission on Higher Education said some institutions would have to raise tuition by 60 percent if the cuts weren’t rescinded.

The budget committee’s recommendation “was not an easy decision,” said state Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, a member of the budget committee. “There don’t seem to be any easy decisions left. Now we’re down to difficult times, perhaps desperate times.”

Budget Committee Chairwoman Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, agreed.

“We’re down to the core mission of government,” Keller said. “We have no fluff, we have no luxury items, we’re down to basics, and we’re cutting the basics.”

The legislative leadership was having second thoughts about putting the weight of budget cuts on higher education, said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

“I think at some point, the Democratic leadership is going to pull on the reins and spread the pain a little more evenly,” he said.


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