STATE-CITY-GOVT-03172020-KS-030

Working in front of the empty, darkened Senate chambers, Chris Martinez cleans and polishes the railings along the hallway and stairs on Tuesday, March 17. The Colorado State Capitol building is eerily quiet as the General Assembly is temporarily adjourned because of COVID-19 until March 30, 2020 on March 17, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The Colorado state website says the State Capitol building will be temporarily closed to the public Monday, March 16 until Wednesday, March 18 for cleaning all areas as per CDPHE and CDC guidelines.

Democratic leaders of the Colorado General Assembly Saturday night announced they would delay resuming the 2020 session until Tuesday, May 26.

The main reason: the budget.

The additional delay will give lawmakers more time for preparations such as safety protocols, to work through legislation tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to"seek greater clarity on potential Congressional action that could significantly impact our state budget."

In a statement, Speaker of the House KC Becker, a Boulder Democrat, said that when legislative leaders "set out a tentative timeline to reconvene the General Assembly, we did so with the recognition that we faced a lot of uncertainty, and so we built in the flexibility to extend the temporary adjournment if needed."

That includes a hope that Congress will "provide additional and badly needed aid to help us avoid budget cuts that will devastate our communities," Becker said. 

The 2020-21 budget appears to play the biggest role in that decision to delay.

On May 4, the Joint Budget Committee began daily meetings to look for $2 billion to $3 billion in cuts for the 2020-21 budget. The committee wrapped up its first review of departmental budgets and where to cut earlier Saturday. Those initial decisions, however, came up far short of even $1 billion in cuts.

Yet to be decided: whether to allow for a second year of the state's reinsurance program, at a cost of $60 million; a balloon payment of $225 million to the state pension plan, and whether the state can afford to pay for full-day kindergarten, which would boost the budget by $220 million.

The week-long budget sessions were often emotional as budget-writers sought to find cuts that would not result in layoffs or furloughs of state employees, or cuts that would impact services to vulnerable populations. 

Colorado has received $1.67 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but guidance from the federal government indicates that money cannot be used to backfill budget cuts. A second aid package to states is in preliminary discussions in Congress, although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, suggested last month that states should file for bankruptcy instead of relying on more help from the federal government.

Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, said in the same statement that with "so much at risk and our desired return date fast approaching, we determined that it would benefit all Coloradans if we gave our budgetary and legislative process a bit more breathing room. Though facing our dire fiscal situation has been a painful task, we are committed to protecting our most critical institutions and vulnerable populations as best as we possibly can."

The General Assembly recessed on March 14 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 30, legislative leaders returned briefly to recess the session until a planned May 18 return date.

On April 1, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the 120-day legislative calendar did not have to be consecutive days during a disaster emergency, as declared by Gov. Jared Polis on March 10 and since then renewed twice, most recently on Thursday. That leaves approximately 52 days left in the session. Becker said two weeks ago that the return would be brief, perhaps as much as three weeks, and that the legislature would go back into recess. Lawmakers could return for the rest of the session later this summer, to deal with legislation responding the pandemic. 

The news that the legislature would delay its return for an extra week came as a surprise to Republican lawmakers. Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker, in a statement Saturday night, said "like many of you, we learned of the extended adjournment of the Colorado General Assembly through the media and online. We were not notified in advance."

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