The Colorado Senate on March 28 approved a $20.5 billion budget that Democratic lawmakers are touting as evidence of an economy that is moving in the right direction.
But their Republican counterparts see the so-called “long bill” as an example of irresponsible overreach at a time of uneven economic growth.
The budget, which begins its fiscal year in July, was passed on a party-line vote of 19-15, with one Democratic lawmaker absent.
Highlights of the budget include more money for public schools and colleges, and construction projects. Also, state employees are set to receive their first pay increases in years.
The state’s ability to do these things is the result of a stronger economy, aided by stock sales, a rise in employment last year, as well other positive economic factors, such as growth in retail sales and the housing market.
However, economic forecasters caution that there are factors that could negatively impact the economy in the next year, such as the possible rise of interest rates and a shaky European economic environment.
Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver, the chairman of the General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee, said during a recent budget floor debate on the bill that instead of the “maneuvering and cash fund raids” that have been necessary in past years, there are “reasons to cheer” many things in this year’s bill.
“I believe we are bringing to you not only a balanced budget, but a responsible budget,” Steadman said.
But, unlike last year, Republicans are in unanimous opposition to the budget, so far.
Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, who also is a member of the Joint Budget Committee, did not vote for this year’s bill. Lambert and other Republicans said the new budget’s spending would exceed growth, and that the state cannot afford that.
“We cannot add more money to add a Band-Aid to the bleeding,” Lambert said.
Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, said “this is the largest budget that the state’s ever had,” and that he would not support it.
Steadman said he does not understand Republican opposition, considering that last year’s budget — which was based on a gloomier economic forecast — was “wildly, bipartisanly popular, and for some reason, this year, it’s not.”
The bill still has to be voted on in the House, before heading to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk for his signature.