Contours of House budget debate emerge in caucus meeting

House Democrats meet before debate on the budget long bill, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

House Democrats meet before debate on the budget long bill, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

Colorado House members on Wednesday drew up 93 amendments to this year’s state “long bill” budget proposal. Members are reviewing them together in caucus meetings before floor debate begins on the $26.8 billion Thursday afternoon.

The number of amendments seems high but the general topics they seek to address, at least so far, come as no surprise.

Questions from a budget preview Democratic caucus meeting yesterday circled around the corrections department, capital development and the marijuana cash fund.

One of the first amendments considered by the Democratic caucus proposed by House Majority Leader KC Becker, from Boulder, would support low-income housing with funds drawn from the marijuana fund.

Rep. Joe Salazar, from Thornton, with Rep. Jovan Melton, from Aurora, proposed an amendment to address prison crowding. He pointed out that “beds are filling up,” and that costs are mounting. He wants to move money from one part of the department into parolee support.

Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, proposed an amendment that would provide tampons to inmates.

Another Democratic amendment seeks to direct millions to the energy office — money requested by Gov. Hickenlooper mainly to support efficiency upgrades.

The caucus is reviewing proposed amendments, but it is also sizing up support among the members for those amendments that members of the majority Democrats will propose — taking the measure of how debate might look this afternoon and tonight and how the budget bill might look as it comes out of the House — and how it might be received by members of the Republican-controlled Senate.

They’re also noting areas of the budget targeted by House minority Republican amendments.

Observers are watching whether members of the Republican minority in the House will seek repeatedly to move money from other areas of the budget into transportation — in order to make a policy point and political hay, if not to necessarily to win support from the majority and actually amend the bill.

One Republican amendment along that line drew guffaws in the Democratic caucus meeting. The proposal would remove adult residents in the state without dependent children from the Medicaid rolls and transfer any money saved to transportation improvements.

Another from Rep. Perry Buck, a Republican from Greeley, would transfer $8 million from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Transportation. Another amendment by Rep. Kim Ransom looked to make a similar transfer.

This year, legislative leaders — Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate — have negotiated a deal they hope will secure billions in funding for long-overdue upgrades to the state’s transportation infrastructure. Part of the deal would ask voters to agree to raise the state sales tax. House Republicans have railed against the plan, arguing that there is plenty of money to be spent on transportation among the billions of dollars in revenue taken in by the state. Spending priorities have to be adjusted, they say.

They have also argued this year that the budgeting process — like roads in the state — also needs upgrading. They say that the budget is written by the six members of the Joint Budget Committee and delivered as half way through the four month legislative session as effectively a finished product — that major changes are all but impossible to make.

john@coloradostatesman.com

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