Transportation, K-12 to get boost in Colorado budget plan

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Photo: Colorado state Capitol building Sept 2014 b
Colorado state Capitol building

Democrats and Republicans have come together to agree on a state budget for the fiscal year that begins in July. The $26 billion spending package scheduled to be introduced Friday is the largest in state history.

The spending package worked out by lawmakers generally mirrors what Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed to them last fall.

It includes some extra money for K-12 education to offset earlier cuts, although not as much as the governor wanted. It also funds 100 new child welfare workers and adds new dollars for transportation.

Some disagreements

The budget committee that drafted this spending plan is equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, and the two sides did clash on some points.

But the committee’s chairman, Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said he tried hard to avoid deadlocking.

Photo: State Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs
State Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, chairs the powerful Joint Budget Committee.

"One of the things we’ve tried to do this year is be very reasonable with that power," Lambert said. "My caucus in the Senate is a pretty conservative caucus, but we do have to work with our Democrat colleagues over in the other side."

While this will be Colorado’s largest budget ever, it actually spends less money than the state will bring in. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights caps state spending and requires the excess be returned to residents. That could total more than $100 million for the next fiscal year.

More: How much could your TABOR refund be? Check here

Democratic House Speaker Dickie Lee Hullinghorst said she’s warned her caucus there won’t be extra money for expensive proposals.

"We may have some flexibility there, but we’re going to have to define our priorities very carefully," Hullinghorst said. "None of those priorities can have a very big price tag on them, if they’re new money."

The General Assembly is expected to debate and pass the budget over the next two weeks. Whatever amendments legislators do make aren’t likely to add up to more than a tiny fraction of the overall budget.