Senate rejects pay cuts for state employees

Furloughs, reductions in health-care spending also nixed in budget battle

The state Senate on a voice vote Thursday rejected salary cuts, furloughs and reduced health-care spending that proponents said were needed to preserve higher education in Colorado.

The vote ended a back-and-forth in which the Senate first rejected the $17.9 billion spending blueprint drafted by the Joint Budget Committee.

The budget proposal cut $300 million from higher education and then took money from an insurance company to restore the cuts.

“It is unconscionable to allow these kinds of cuts to higher education,” Senate President Peter Groff said in a statement. “After meeting with leadership on both sides of the aisle, it was clear that the Joint Budget Committee had to go back to the drawing board.”

The budget committee, however, declined to reconsider the budget offering and the issue returned to the Senate, where majority Democrats and the Republican members of the committee approved the original budget.

Pinnacol Assurance, an insurance carrier established in state law and required to operate as a mutual insurance company, maintains that the Legislature has no legal claim to its reserves.

Should the legislature fail to collect from Pinnacol, the colleges would be allowed “unlimited tuition increases,” state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said.

The Senate, however, moved to claim $500 million from the company’s assets.
Republicans offered a series of reductions in spending, including a 3 percent salary reduction for state employees.

“None are particularly good or desirable,” Penry said. “But we have to do this.”

Joint Budget Committee Chairwoman Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, said that constitutional restrictions on state revenues would prevent the eventual restoration of those cuts.

If the cuts were approved, “There are no employees left,” Keller said. “We’re shutting down.”

Keller said that when Republicans were in charge of the Legislature, it chose to make tax cuts instead of set up a rainy day fund.

Had that happened, the state might not be facing its current budget problems, Keller said.

“Mea culpa issued,” said Penry, the Senate minority leader. “Your problem is you’re emulating our strategy, a sort of faith-based strategy” that anticipates state revenues will recover.


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