Colorado House approves 2020-21 budget, heads to state Senate

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The Colorado House, on a 41-23 party-line vote, approved the 2020-21 state budget and sent it on to its next stop, the state Senate.

As sent over by the House, the budget is out of balance. But that's not much of an issue for now, according to Joint Budget Committee Chair Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat.

House Bill 20-1360 as approved by the House Wednesday included several changes that put the budget out of whack. That included the following changes:

  • An amendment, offered by Democratic Reps. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge and Mary Young of Greeley, took $500,000 from the state's share of the coronavirus relief fund and put it into a domestic abuse program, also within Human Services.
  • Another amendment from Democratic Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez of Denver and Jovan Melton of Aurora moves $1 million from the marijuana tax cash fund to the department of human services for a program on alternatives to youth detention.
  • The marijuana tax cash fund also was the source for funds for a program dealing with substance use disorders at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. The amendment, offered by four Democratic lawmakers, explained that the fund would be tapped to the tune of $4.6 million, with $2.5 million headed to the CIRCLE program, and an additional $750,000 for a health disparities grant program in the department of public health and environment.
  • Democratic lawmakers also won approval for an amendment to reduce provider rates for anesthesia services, a reduction of $500,000 in general fund and a total of $1.7 million in all funds. That money would head to the Commission on Family Medicine, which trains physicians, primarily for rural communities. The commission's budget had been slashed by $1 million during the JBC's budget process.

The votes against included Rep. Kim Ransom of Littleton, a member of the JBC. It's not unusual for a committee member from the minority party to vote against the budget, which Ransom did last year.

The House adopted four of the 64 amendments (out of more than 70 total) proposed by the minority party. Among those was one proposed by Republican Reps. Terri Carver of Colorado Springs and Janice Rich of Grand Junction, that would direct the governor to send CARES Act money to the 59 counties that were ineligible for those dollars, but did not say how much. The state received $1.6 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in April.

A second Republican amendment, from Carver and Rep. Colin Larson of Littleton, makes the same request, except to ask for CARES money for the state's unemployment compensation fund. A third Carver amendment states a legislative intent that unemployment insurance premiums not be increased in 2021.

The most significant of the Republican amendments to pass was one offered by Rep. Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs, who sought a $3.8 million general fund cut for vehicle lease payments in multiple agencies and put those dollars into medical services premiums in the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. Those premiums are tied to the state's Medicaid program.

The budget bill, House Bill 1360, and 39 of its 41 orbital bills (which change state laws in order to balance the budget), now head to Senate Appropriations. It's expected that the committee will strip off all the amendments adopted by the first chamber and will start over with a clean, and at least temporarily, balanced budget.

Senate lawmakers broke into party caucuses Wednesday afternoon to review the budget, changes made by the House and the orbitals.

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat and JBC member, noted that the JBC staff worked until midnight most nights to craft the document, even during the protests last week, and left work to find slashed tires and broken car windows.

This story is from Colorado Politics, a statewide political and public policy news journal. Used by permission. For more, visit coloradopolitics.com.

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