A week after Colorado Senate lawmakers went on a spending spree while considering the upcoming state budget, the state House of Representatives went even bigger.
Lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) responded to being forced last year to cut $3.4 billion from the general fund with Senate Bill 21-205, a budget bill totaling $34.1 billion, including $16 billion in general fund dollars. The Senate last Thursday tacked on 14 amendments to the Long Appropriations Bill, adding an additional $33.5 million to the version of the budget they approved, with $21.8 million coming from general fund dollars.
The House Appropriations Committee stripped off those amendments, allowing the chamber to start fresh on the JBC’s bill. And not to be outdone, the House on Wednesday approved a version of the budget with 18 amendments adding $55.4 million, with $30.2 million in general fund dollars.
Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat who serves as the vice chair of the JBC, said this year’s budget represented a night-and-day difference from the one lawmakers approved last year.
“As a state, we were sitting underneath the shadow of a pandemic that completely turned our world upside down. We were experiencing an economic shutdown here in the state, as well as the nation, and facing more than $3 billion in reductions to state programs, operations and services,” she said. “Today I bring before you a long bill that has been carefully crafted, that is responsible, that meets the needs and speaks to the values of who we are as a body.”
Those 18 approved amendments came throughout the course of a marathon day stretching from just after 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. in which lawmakers rejected 75 other proposed changes. Twelve of those amendments were approved by the state Senate last week, which made up $31 million of $55.4 million lawmakers added on the version of the bill drafted by the JBC. House lawmakers voted down the other two amendments their Senate colleagues approved.
Of the six other amendments that passed, four were from Democrats, one featured bipartisan support and the last came from Republicans.
Two of the amendments from House Democrats seek to add $1 million to the collaborative management programs in the Department of Human Services and boost the Department of Personnel’s budget by $100,000 for procurement and contracts in the Division of Accounts and Controls. The first of those amendments came from Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez of Denver and Judy Amabile of Boulder, while the second was run by Reps. Naquetta Ricks of Aurora and Adrienne Benavidez of Denver.
Amabile also ran a successful amendment with Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, to add $250,000 to the state’s Children’s Trust Fund. The House also approved an amendment from Democratic Reps. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge and Tracey Bernett of Longmont directing $13.6 million in federal funds to the Department of Human Services for short-term assistance payments.
A fifth amendment featured bipartisan sponsors in Reps. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Perry Will, R-New Castle. That measure put $5 million in general fund dollars into the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Wildlife to implement Proposition 114 to reintroduce and manage gray wolves.
House Republicans ran the final successful measure that seeks to up the rate the state pays local jails to house Department of Corrections inmates from $59.42 to $80 per day. To do that, the House agreed to an amendment from Colorado Springs Reps. Terri Carver and Andy Pico, spending just over $4.5 million out of the general fund.
That was the lone bright spot on the day for House Republicans, who saw amendments on topics ranging from agriculture to human trafficking voted down. GOP lawmakers also unsuccessfully sought to reallocate Gov. Jared Polis’ salary to bolster the Unemployment Compensation Fund and made multiple efforts at transferring money out of the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media.
House Republicans, led by Rep. Colin Larson of Littleton, also repeatedly tried to strip out the long bill’s 3% raise for state employees and reallocate either part or all of that total to a range of priorities, including K-12 education, mental health programs, water and earmarked transportation projects. Along with Larson, a number of Republicans indicated the money could be better spent elsewhere. Democrats, led by McCluskie and Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, strongly disagreed.
The legislation is set to be up for a final House vote on Thursday before returning to the JBC to reconcile the differences between the versions passed by the House and Senate. The budget panel serves as the conference committee on the long bill.
The JBC will also be tasked with working out where the money to fund the approved amendments will come from.
In the Senate, JBC members last week told their colleagues that any changes to the budget involving general fund dollars would draw down the rainy-day fund, known as the general fund reserve. That fund is proposed to reach historic levels: $1.7 billion in the 2021-22 budget, or 13.54% of general fund appropriations.
But House Democrats the budget panel on Tuesday told their colleagues amendments featuring general fund expenditures would be drawn out of the pot of $50 million set aside to fund bill approved this legislative session.