The Colorado House gave its final approval on Friday to the $30.5 billion state budget for the upcoming fiscal year after working late into the night on the bill and related legislation Thursday.
The final vote was 42-22, mostly along party lines.
The spending package now goes back to the Joint Budget Committee, which will become the conference committee and work out differences between the House and Senate versions.
Senate Bill 207, which contains the 2019-20 state budget, was approved on voice vote at 11:30 p.m. Thursday.
The debate was put on hold early Thursday afternoon while House and Senate leaders from both parties negotiated just how much the state would provide in one-time money for transportation projects.
The budget for transportation started off in the Senate last week at $230 million. The Senate added $106 million in a compromise between the two parties. However, once the budget bill leaves one chamber, all amendments are stripped off, and the bill starts over as if it were never changed.
That raised a lot of questions about whether House Democrats would back more money for transportation, and just how much — particularly since Speaker of the House KC Becker indicated earlier in the week that she did not favor the full $106 million.
That was answered about an hour into Thursday’s debate, when the four caucuses worked out a deal to come up with a number: $70 million, bringing the total available for transportation to an even $300 million.
House members proposed 90 amendments throughout the day, most failing when the Joint Budget Committee's two Democratic House members — Reps. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo and Chris Hansen of Denver — advocated against them.
The third member of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), Republican Rep. Kim Ransom of Lone Tree, who is serving in her first year on the committee, did not sign on as a sponsor of the budget bill. A member of the JBC not signing on to the budget bill hasn't happened since 2013, when then-Republican Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs also declined to sponsor the budget bill. (Lambert also voted against the budget on several occasions.)
That doesn’t mean the budget wasn’t changed in the Thursday debate. Among the changes that won approval, despite JBC opposition:
- An increase to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing of $2.9 million to up home health care provider rates, an amendment also adopted in the Senate last week.
- $500,000 to the Department of Public Health and Environment for suicide prevention, an amendment that won approval in the Senate last week.
- $168,942 in marijuana cash tax funds to pay for fresh produce for K-12 students, an amendment supported by a coalition of 22 bipartisan urban and rural lawmakers.
- $500,000 in additional funding (half from the general fund) for the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to increase provider rates for neonatal and pediatric intensive care units.
- $3 million in general fund dollars currently targeted for operating funds for the Department of Higher Education, rerouted to wildfire mitigation services provided by the state forest service operated by Colorado State University.
- $5.4 million from marijuana tax cash funds to pay for opioid treatment for rural counties through the Department of Human Services.
- A footnote (an instruction to an agency) that operating funds in the Department of Corrections used to buy soft-soled tennis shoes for inmates with diabetes. Litigation around this issue exists, said Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts of Eagle.
- A footnote to the University of Colorado directing it to provide $1 million in scholarships to underrepresented minority students at the CU School of Medicine.
- A footnote directing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to study the potency of THC in marijuana.
Lawmakers also attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to tap the state’s marijuana tax cash fund for a variety of purposes.
A somewhat tongue-in-cheek battle broke out when several Republican lawmakers attempted to take money away from the Pueblo-based Colorado State Fair and redirect it elsewhere. That drew pushback from three Pueblo-area Democrats, including JBC member Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo.
Most of the debate was collegial, but that came to a momentary end when Republicans tried to defund the Colorado Division of Civil Rights and shift its funding to school safety. That led to a brief rehashing of the debate over last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit.
Republican Rep. Mark Baisley of Roxborough Park called the division "a disgrace" and claimed it violates the rights of Colorado citizens.
"Not everyone feels they are protected by the division," added Republican Rep. Shane Sandridge of Colorado Springs.
Democratic Rep. Cathy Kipp of Fort Collins called the amendment offensive; Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver added that when hate crimes are on the rise , "today is not the day to defund our remedy when we are being faced with discrimination."
Democrats hammered home the point later on a committee of the whole amendment, which requires a recorded vote. The amendment to eliminate the division failed 19-45.
Sandridge also unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate the driver's license program for undocumented residents through a budget amendment.
A handful of other budget-related bills also won preliminary approval Thursday, including Senate Bill 212, which puts $10 million in general fund dollars toward continued implementation of the state water plan, the first time general fund dollars have been tapped for it. Severance tax dollars have been used in the past to pay for water plan implementation and projects.
Several lawmakers attempted to move more money into the water plan for 2019-20, ranging in amounts from $5 million to $20 million. All were unsuccessful.
But there are already additional dollars in the waiting for the water plan. Last week the annual Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) projects bill, Senate Bill 221, was introduced, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail and Rep. Dylan Roberts of Eagle.
The bill earmarks an additional $17.5 million from the CWCB's severance tax base account for a variety of purposes tied to the water plan. That bill won unanimous approval Thursday from the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee and was sent on to Senate Appropriations.