Partisan bickering hampers budget process at state Capitol

DENVER — Legislators are halfway through approving next year’s budget, but debate hasn’t been so much over what’s in the $20.5 billion spending plan as the politics surrounding it.

The budget cleared the Colorado Senate on a 20-15 party-line vote last week, with Republicans opposing it not so much because of what the money would be used on, but on other measures that have come through the Legislature, such as numerous bills dealing with gun violence.

Democrats, meanwhile, say that’s just nonsense.

“The budget is about ensuring that we have a government that functions and invests in key areas like education, and does things like repair buildings and provides child-welfare protection for our kids,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. “I don’t understand how this has become a huge fight when all of the things that Republicans said they wanted to see in the budget are in the budget.”

That includes increased funding for roads and capital construction, a greater emphasis on mental health programs as a way of combatting gun violence and hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for a rainy day.

In the Senate, Republicans made several attempts to move money around, including putting millions of dollars into a firefighting air force that Sen. Steve King has proposed.

Democrats argued that such a force might be a good idea but complained that they know little about it because the Grand Junction Republican has yet to introduce a bill to actually do that despite weeks of talking about it.

Other Republicans said they opposed the budget because it would increase spending by more than 7 percent, saying that’s way too high.

“I don’t believe that this General Assembly should look the people of Colorado in the eye and say, ‘We think our budget ought to grow a lot faster than your budget,’ ” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.

The budget restores more than $1 billion in spending cuts made over the past few years because of the recession and includes millions of dollars more for K-12 schools and capital construction projects.

But Democrats in the House, where the measure will be debated this week, say they’re willing to consider more changes from their GOP colleagues if they are serious efforts.

“I told the minority leader that if he has ideas to support amendments that you want to work on, bring them to me,” Ferrandino said. “We’re happy to see their amendments, but what I think we’re going to see are a lot ‘gotcha’ amendments and not real practical policy work.”


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