House OKs state budget

Water, pension agreements help to get bipartisan vote

DENVER – House members overcame their hurt feelings and gave a bipartisan vote to the state budget Friday morning, salvaging at least one big accomplishment for 2013 for which both parties can claim credit.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, joined eight other Republicans to vote for the $8.2 billion general fund budget, which passed 45-18. In the Senate, no Republicans voted for it – a reversal from last year, when it passed by a wide bipartisan majority.

Coram successfully amended the spending plan to pay back $30 million into the state’s account for water-project construction. The Legislature plundered the once-robust account from 2008 to 2010 to cope with the recession.

Coram’s amendment was one of two that House Republicans added. The other one repays the state’s 30-year-old debt to its fire and police pension account, which wasn’t scheduled to be paid off for another six years. The state will save $26 million in interest by paying back the money ahead of schedule.

“This is a responsible budget we’re putting before you,” said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, a member of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.

The government saw a windfall of money thanks to an improving economy and taxes on investments in a soaring stock market. Levy said the Legislature is spending the new money responsibly.

The budget increases the annual reserve that legislators keep for emergencies. It triples the amount available for building construction, and it increases the school budget to keep up with inflation.

Republicans didn’t like all of the spending plan, especially a 2 percent raise for state employees and the addition of 15 oil and gas well inspectors.

Still, nine Republicans voted for it.

“I believe at the end of the day, more good stuff happened in this budget than bad,” said House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs.

Late-night shenanigans nearly blew up the bipartisan agreement Thursday.

Legislators often propose amendments on the budget to embarrass each other, and Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, had offered three amendments to cut the budget by 5 percent, 1 percent and 0.1 percent – an attempt to paint Democrats as fiscally irresponsible. When the time came to take recorded votes, however, she offered only two amendments on the smaller cuts.

Democrats pointed out that her 5 percent cut would have slashed $155 million from public schools, and they offered the amendment themselves in order to get Republicans on the record for a damaging vote.

“You know, folks, actions have consequences down here,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, sponsor of the gambit.

Republicans went into a rage.

“We were working toward bipartisan support on this budget, and now this – the Democratic leadership doing a touchdown dance at the expense of the minority,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.

In the end, Pabon withdrew the amendment, and about a third of the Republican caucus voted for the budget. But legislators left for the weekend with hard feelings, and Waller said he worried the fight would carry over into the last month of the Legislature’s annual session.

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