Weeks of tense negotiations and occasional lawmaker blowups are coming to an end, one way or another, over a linchpin bill that in its last iteration would raise $1.8 billion in bond money for state transportation upgrades, save state hospitals from a proposed $500 million cut and lower the state spending limit in future years by $200 million.
It’s a bold bipartisan proposal and passing it would mark a difficult, grand political bargain at the Legislature struck in the service of state residents.
“We have already found compromise on major things that we’ve talked about in the building for many years,” said House Majority Leader KC Becker, a Boulder Democrat. “I think that’s a huge achievement and we shouldn’t let that slip away.”
Becker was speaking frankly about ongoing negotiations over Senate Bill 267 the day after talks apparently rambled in and out of yet another dip in the road with just just seven working days left in the legislative session.
Senate sponsor Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling, announced Monday that agreement would include a Medicaid reform provision requiring patients to pay the highest possible co-pays allowed under the federal program.
Becker on Tuesday said parties had decided that was too big an issue to fit into the bill and that talks had moved on.
“I think we’ll see real movement today,” she said, treading lightly around the edges of what is still clearly a delicate business.
“I don’t want to jump the gun until I talk to my cosponsors, because we’ve honestly been working really well together and I want to be respectful and not cramp anything until talking to them…
Becker said the four sponsors of the bill — she and Sonnenberg, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, a Denver Democrat, and Rep. John Becker, a Fort Morgan Republican — were working to, in effect, ink a start-to-finish completed deal before moving the bill even one step further through official legislative machinery.
“Originally, we expected the bill would come over from the Senate and we would change it in the House and then have conversations. But now they don’t want to move it out of the Senate until everything is fully decided… and we are just so, so super close,” she said. “There really are just some small things we have to cover.
“The conversation has moved forward a lot — since last year, since the beginning of the session, since last week.”
Becker said there is, understandably, a wish list of topics that Republicans want to see secured in the bill before it leaves on its voyage from the Republican-controlled Senate to the Democratic-controlled House.
“We’re not going to let everything Republicans dreamed about this session into the bill,” she half-joked. “I have been kidding that I have my own wish list I could bring.”
The tension around the bill is palpable.
“At the start of the session, [Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran] made clear her intention to make a real effort to be bipartisan and to tackle big issues and make good policy — and this bill reflects exactly those goals,” Becker said. “If it doesn’t pass, it’s not so much a disaster for us here [at the Capitol]… It’s a disaster for hospitals and for school children and for the roads… We are so close. We are not going to abandon this effort for lack of agreement on a few things.”