Revenue measure KO’d by House

The Colorado Statesman

The battle over a nonbinding resolution on state revenues is at an impasse, with the Senate rejecting a $195 million cut added into the resolution by the House, and the House rejecting the Senate changes. And the stalemate over the spending resolution raises serious concerns for one legislator, Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, who said that if the House and Senate could not reach a consensus on the resolution, it might signal future trouble for the entire state budget bill that the equally divided Joint Budget Committee will write later.

According to long-time capitol observers, it’s the first time anyone can remember the resolution, which is required by state statute, has not been passed.

The resolution, House Joint Resolution 11-1007, was supposed to go to a conference committee noon Thursday, but that meeting never happened in light of actions taken by the House Thursday morning. The annual resolution certifies the amount of revenue available for the next fiscal year’s budget. The resolution states that the General Assembly must first pay three obligations: capital construction, fire and police pensions and local government payments. Then, the state covers appropriations for the executive, legislative and judicial departments; followed by appropriations to the general fund reserve. Any new programs can be paid for if there is money left after all of the other obligations are covered. The annual resolution is intended to provide guidance to the JBC when they begin figure-setting this month, and is usually based on the more conservative of two revenue estimates provided by the Legislative Council economists and the economists from the Office of State Planning and Budgeting. This year’s revenue estimate, as reflected by the original version of HJR 1007 and the amended version that came from the Senate, uses the Legislative Council figures.

In its trip through the House, Republicans cut the revenue estimate provided by the Legislative Council by $195 million, reflecting concerns that the state needed to be more careful about its spending.

The Senate restored HJR 1007’s original revenue estimate, to $7.093 billion, based on an amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. In addition to restoring the original revenue projection, Morse’s amendment also decreed that any revenue above the $7.093 billion would go to restore funding to K-12 public schools. The Senate voted along party lines on Monday to pass the amended resolution, with 20 Democrats in favor and 15 Republicans against.

Senate Republicans offered four amendments of their own, attempting to point out that Morse’s amendment dealt with an appropriation, which Republicans said is not the resolution’s purpose. Similar efforts by Democrats in the House last week led to intense partisan wrangling over the resolution.

The House on Tuesday rejected the changes, voting nearly unanimously to do so, although House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, called the Senate changes “fine work.”

On Wednesday, Gerou dismissed the notion that the resolution was nearing stalemate, and said not passing the resolution could spell trouble for dealing with the budget down the road. While she acknowledged that the resolution is non-binding, Gerou said she hoped the conference committee could come to some resolution on the matter. “We’ll take it to committee and see where we’re at,” Gerou told The Colorado Statesman. However, “my problem is that it sets a bad precedent. This is the first resolution that’s come forward on the budget, and if we can’t get this thing settled, how will we deal with the budget?”

Ferrandino has referred to the resolution as meaningless. He told The Statesman Wednesday that missing the Feb. 1 deadline also didn’t matter. While the resolution is required by statute, “there’s no recourse if we don’t do it,” Ferrandino said. And in light of the current situation, one option is to repeal the statute, which he called a “better policy. [The resolution] doesn’t have any bearing on the budget, since we will get an updated forecast in March” and will update the revenue estimate without updating the resolution. “There are political games being played on all sides for something that is meaningless.”

But on Thursday, the resolution officially died for good. HJR 1007 sponsor Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, asked the House to adhere to its position during the morning session, and told The Statesman later the conference committee would not meet. House Democrats pointed out that the General Assembly was in violation of state law by refusing to pass the resolution, but DelGrosso said the Legislature had been in violation of the statute since Feb. 1, when the resolution failed to meet that deadline for passage.

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, a member of the never-to-be conference committee, told The Statesman Thursday that failure to pass the resolution pointed out the differences in philosophy between the two parties, with one party wanting to be more cautious about state spending. He said he believed March revenue forecasts would be more positive, but Republicans still wanted to set a lower revenue figure in the resolution.