DENVER (AP) – Colorado House Democrats unhappy with the state’s budget proposal to cut education funding are gearing up for a long fight, saying they plan to introduce three dozen amendments to a deal that was overwhelmingly approved with bipartisan support in the Senate.
Democratic House Leader Rep. Sal Pace said his party will attempt Wednesday to reduce $250 million in cuts to K-12 education and amend a bill that modifies the monthly enrollment fee on a health care program for low-income children.
Republican House Leader Rep. Amy Stephens criticized Democrats’ plans.
“If Sal wants to get partisan to make a name for them, they’re welcome to. It’s unfortunate,” she said, later adding: “If you want to have a show for a day, by all means. I mean, you waste all of our time running all that.”
Pace defended his party’s decision to try to amend the $18 billion budget. “No, it’s not to put on a show. We’re trying to make policy here,” he said.
But Democrats will have a difficult time advancing any of their amendments, because Republicans have a one-vote edge in the House.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s initially proposed cutting K-12 education funding by $332 million next year, but the proposal approved Monday in the Senate reduced the cut to $250 million. The reduction will likely prompt teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and shorter school weeks. The budget bill also cuts money for higher education.
The deal struck by Senate Republicans and Democrats restores part of a tax rebate to retailers for collecting sales tax and a waiver on sales taxes on agricultural products, and eliminates a tax on software downloaded online.
Stephens said that the compromise is a fair balance that reduces education cuts while trying to revamp the state’s economy by attracting businesses with the elimination of past taxes. She said the deal has the support of Republicans who have vehemently rejected the state’s spending plans in the past and that leaders from both parties participated in the discussions.
“I was involved in some discussions,” Pace said. “I ultimately said that I want to work to try to decrease the cuts to school kids, and (Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer) and the governor understood my position.”
Pace said he would also try to delay the closing of a prison in southeastern Colorado, which is near the district he represents.
Leaders in the towns and cities near the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility say the prisons closure will have a devastating impact on communities that rely on the prison for jobs. The prison was set to close Aug. 31 but lawmakers extended the date by six months.
Pace said he would try to keep the prison open indefinitely or ask for another six-month extension.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)