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Long Budget Fight Expected In Colorado House

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Colorado House Democrats are proposing dozens of amendments Wednesday to a state budget that was overwhelmingly approved in the Senate this week, saying they want to add funding for health care programs and education.

The amendments the Democrats are proposing face long odds in the House because Republicans have a one-vote advantage and they’ve said they’re satisfied with the budget’s current form.

Democrats have said they’re frustrated that the 2011-2012 budget includes a $250 million cut to K-12 education, but it restores a tax rebate to retailers for collecting sales tax and a waiver on sales taxes on agricultural products. A tax on software downloaded online will also be repealed. The tax breaks were part of a deal struck by Senate Democrats with Republicans in the Senate and the House.

The Senate approved the budget proposal on a 30-5 vote Monday.

The amendments House Democrats are proposing include adding more money to Medicaid programs, increasing funds for services for people with developmental disabilities, and giving more money for prison vocational programs. Democrats also add $5 million for college scholarships by reducing the tax break to retailers. It’s a proposal likely to attract strong opposition from Republicans because it was a main part of the budget compromise.

Republican Rep. Mark Waller, the third-ranking GOP member in the House, said Democrats will get a fair hearing Wednesday, but that they would have to explain where they’re getting the money to keep the budget balanced.

“And I can tell you if these amendments are, as I think they are, if they’re counter to growing jobs in the state of Colorado, we’re going to advocate for those amendments not to pass,” he said.

The Democrats’ amendments also include several proposals to delay the closing of a rural southeastern Colorado prison. The prison in Las Animas is a big employer in the region and city and town leaders in surrounding areas say closing the prison will devastate local economies. Rep. Sal Pace, the Democrat’s leader in the House, is sponsoring those amendments because he represents a district near the prison. During a party meeting before the floor debate on the budget, some Democrats said they would not support Pace’s proposals to keep the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility open.

“I guess my concern is everybody has a program in this budget that they would like to see saved and I’m not sure I can support carving out one individual project or one individual person that gets their program saved at the expense of others,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, a Democrat from Fort Collins. “We’re all kind of in this together, I think.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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