The Colorado General Assembly recently took up the state’s annual budget bill, also known as the “Long Bill.” More than 40 amendments were introduced in the House of Representatives, many by Republicans to make sure your tax dollars were going to be spent responsibly.
Nearly every Republican amendment was rejected by the Democratic majority, and the final bill passed on a nearly party-line vote out of the House. The sole Republican voting “yes” was a member of the Joint Budget Committee who all vote for the Long Bill by tradition.
Before the debate began, the Republican Caucus aimed to accomplish three objectives with the Long Bill: We wanted to save for our future; invest in our state infrastructure; and return funds by restoring cuts made to K-12 education.
Your Republican representatives pushed hard to reduce the negative factor (a calculation of the cuts that were made to K-12 education during the recession) by $10 million to $35 million. Additionally, we offered an amendment that would have boosted funding for the Colorado College Opportunity Fund (COF). Had the amendment passed, the additional funding would have reduced tuition for Colorado students on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, also led the charge to boost one-time funding for investment in repairing roads and bridges in Colorado. This would have created jobs and improved road safety in our state. However, the Democrats remained unified in their opposition to these common-sense proposals and ensured money was protected for their own pet projects.
The partisanship in this process was beyond belief. There was no cooperation with Republicans and nearly every effort by our caucus to improve the budget was blocked by the Democratic majority. It is worth noting that under Democratic leadership, the Long Bill has become increasingly partisan. Under Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, the 2012 Long Bill passed on a vote of 64-1. The next year, under current Democratic leadership, the vote was 45-18 and this year’s bill only garnered one Republican “yes” vote, who was bound by tradition to support the bill.
Fortunately, there were some victories for our caucus in the debate over the Long Bill. House Bill 1337, which was companion legislation to the Long Bill, increases the General Fund reserve to 6.5 percent and received broad bipartisan support. Assistant Minority Leader Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, got two critical amendments passed to the Long Bill, which will prevent the use of state welfare ATM cards at strip clubs and marijuana dispensaries. Additionally, Reps. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, received enough support to fund their proposal to manage and mitigate a non-native, invasive species of tree that consumes large quantities of water and has devastated areas of rural Colorado. Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough, garnered enough support to fund her bill, House Bill 1158, which will set mandatory minimum sentences for vehicular homicides and assaults that result from driving under the influence.
The first week of April, the Senate debated the Long Bill and amended it to include increased funding for expanded community and family support services. Additionally, there was a bipartisan proposal, led by Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, to provide funding for a state-owned and -operated firefighting air corps, to aid in fighting future wildfires. They sent their version back to the House. It has since gone through a Conference Committee made up of representatives and senators, where a compromise on differences between the two chambers’ versions was reached.
Please mark your calendars for my next town hall meeting, which will be joint with Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, on April 26 at 1:30 p.m. at Koelbel Library, 5955 S. Holly St. in Centennial. Our special guest speaker will be a representative from CDOT who will be updating us on the new toll roads with Highway 36 and C-470.
State Rep. Kathleen Conti serves House District 38, which includes all or parts of Littleton, Greenwood Village, Englewood, Centennial, Bow Mar and Columbine Valley. She can be reached at 303-866-2953 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.