Legislative panels in dispute over spending plans

DENVER — Lawmakers on a Colorado General Assembly panel that prioritizes construction projects in the state clashed Thursday with legislators who draft the state’s annual spending plan.

The six-member Capital Development Committee, whose job is to review and recommend which construction projects should be funded first, are upset with the six-member Joint Budget Committee for cherry-picking from its priority list.

In an early morning meeting between the two panels, some CDC members went so far as to accuse two JBC members of approving projects in their own districts over higher priority projects elsewhere in the state, including one at Colorado Mesa University.

“Maybe there’s some little adjustment and some changes in the list, but a wholesale disregard of the list is what’s problematic,” said Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Snowmass Village Democrat whose district includes Delta County.

“I fundamentally disagree with that statement,” responded Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver and chairwoman of the JBC. “If you look at the CDC’s list and the list that we funded, there was a lot of overlap there. There were several, several projects that CDC agreed with.”

“With all due respect, Representative Duran,” countered Schwartz, who is chairwoman of the CDC. “Half. Half of the list you adopted was matched.”

At issue is the amount of funding the JBC plans to make available for capital construction projects next year.

The CDC had hoped to fund 32 projects at a cost of about $375 million, including an $18.5 million request from CMU to renovate and expand Tomlinson Library.

The JBC, however, says it only has about $250 million to spend. But instead of drawing the line at that level straight down the CDC’s priority list, it chose several others — projects that Gov. John Hickenlooper had requested — that had a lower priority.

That included a $22.8 million renovation of the library at the Auraria Higher Education Center and $13.3 million for a visual and performing arts complex at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

The Auraria campus is in downtown Denver, a district Duran represents, while the UCCS project is in a district represented by Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, another JBC member.

Funding those projects raised questions from several CDC members, including Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, who said there seemed to be no point to the CDC bothering to exist if the JBC was going to do whatever it wanted.

“Why does one entity get priority over another when we spent the time to make a balanced list?” Szabo said.

“Representative Szabo,” Duran said. “Are you questioning my motivation?”

Duran later drew a line in the sand when she said the JBC was planning to finish the state budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and had already made its decision on capital construction projects.

That comment enraged others on the CDC panel.

“Now what I’m hearing is that this is just it?” said Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge and a CDC member. “We have 100 legislators in this building ... and not for one minute should six people here or six people here think that it is the end all, be all and that we don’t all have a voice.

“To sit here and say that I’m sorry, this process is closed ... because we voted yesterday, I think we need to leave the arrogance at the door and have an honest discussion.”

In addition to the CMU library project being passed over, the JBC also declined to fund 54 maintenance projects around the state, including $344,148 to repair the roof at CMU’s Wubben Hall that has been leaking since December 2010, and $211,000 to replace seven aging and heavily damaged transformers around the CMU campus that pose potential contamination leaks.

Such clashes between the CDC and JBC are rare, but not unprecedented. Nearly a decade ago, a similar thing happened that equally angered CDC members, resulting in some discussion by the JBC and other lawmakers to do away with the capital development panel.

Schwartz said what the JBC did not only was contrary to normal legislative procedure, but also may have been illegal.

“We are seeing them not abiding by the statute,” Schwartz said. “They were simply laying down what they see as their role to totally do exactly what they want to with capital development, and I take exception to that and I think the public should take exception to it.”

As a result of that clash, later in the day the JBC made some adjustments to the list it would fund, but added only one rural project to it, and then only a portion of it. The panel took $5 million away from the Auraria project and put it toward renovating Quigley Hall at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, which had asked for $25 million.

Still, that project had a lower priority than the CMU library.

The other additions the JBC made were to fund more Front Range projects, including $10 million for Red Rocks Community College and $14.6 million for the Colorado School of Mines. It then allocated $1 million for the next phase of renovations in the House and Senate chambers, a project that wasn’t on the CDC list.


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