Colorado lawmakers turn sights to budget as session rolls on

Photo: The Colorado Capitol on New Year's Day 2015
The Gold Dome atop the Colorado Capitol.

Budget negotiations loom over Colorado lawmakers as they enter the second half of the legislative session.

The first half of the session involved a lot of wrangling over social issues. But in the coming weeks the focus will shift more and more to financial matters. The Legislature always manages to pass a budget, but Republican House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso says agreeing on spending priorities will be tough.

"It looks like right now like we have a ton of money, but the reality is that we don’t," DelGrosso said.

State revenues have been rising, but the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights caps how much of that can be spent. The rest has to be returned to the public. That means even things that both parties say they want – like a felony DUI law – are stuck in limbo, waiting to see if there will be enough money available to fund them.

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"[I] think we’re looking at all of the different bills that are coming forward and we’re going to have to look through that lens of what the budget provides to us and what resources are going to be available," said Democratic House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran.

Also on docket: Education, condo defects

Aside from the budget, legislative leaders say there are several other big issues still in the works. Negotiations continue over a bill to lighten the testing burden on Colorado students.

"Not everyone’s on the same page," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll. "Not all Democrats see alike on this one, not all Republicans see alike on this one."

Another issue that doesn’t fall along partisan lines is the effort to make it harder for condo owners to sue builders over construction defects. House leaders oppose the policy. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel said he’s counting on hearings in his chamber to give the bipartisan bill momentum.

"I’m optimistic that the real-world discussion that’s going to take place around that bill will go a long way in propelling it to success," Scheffel said.

Lawmakers now have two months left to sort out it all out, before they have to adjourn their session in May.