Partisan battles delay talks on next year’s state budget

DENVER—Considering that House Republicans have killed just about every controversial Democratic bill that has come before the 2011 legislative session, and Democrats in the Senate have responded in kind, it comes as no surprise to most here that the two sides can’t agree on a state budget.

That’s why the annual spending plan for the next fiscal year that normally is introduced by this point in the session was nowhere to be found Monday.

So where is it?

“I don’t know, we’re still talking,” said Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver and a member of the Joint Budget Committee that drafts the plan. “Give it another week and then I’ll start panicking.”

Leadership in the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate are at odds over such big-ticket items as K-12 spending, creating a rainy-day fund and reinstating tax credits that were suspended last year.

Currently, the budget panel is considering cutting K-12 spending by $332 million, and making several other major, across-the-board cuts, something the Democrats don’t like but are willing to live with.

Meanwhile, there are other things in the budget committee’s proposed budget the Republicans don’t like, including renewing a $65 million suspension on the fee businesses are allowed to keep as compensation for collecting sales taxes, doing without a $140 million rainy-day fund, transferring money from cash fund accounts, and charging sales taxes on such things as cigarettes and agricultural products.

Doing those things, too, could lead to an even bigger cut to public schools, Ferrandino said.

“The Democrats want to try to reduce the cuts to K-12, and the other side wants to not do the vendor fee, not do the cigarette tax, not take severance tax dollars, and they want to find permanent structural cuts,” he said. “I’m not against that. The question is, how do we backfill those? If the other side’s not willing to budge on some of those issues, that $332 (million) could easily be $500 million.”

Ferrandino and Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, said the budget committee that she also sits on isn’t the problem. The panel made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, for the most part, have agreed on a general fund budget of about $7 billion, she said.

Initially, the budget committee was planning to propose a budget by Monday, but now is not sure when that will happen.

“Right now it’s between the Senate and the House at a leadership level, and I haven’t been a part of those conversations,” Gerou said. “I don’t think there’s necessarily a sticking point, it’s just a matter of putting the puzzle parts together.”


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