DENVER (AP) – Democrats in the state Senate approved a $20.5 billion budget on Thursday with funding increases for schools, higher education and construction projects at colleges and state buildings.
All 15 Republicans in the chamber opposed the plan that also includes a 2 percent pay raise for state employees – the first in four years.
The budget passed with 19 votes and now goes to the Colorado House for consideration.
Republicans said there were things they liked about the budget, such as the increases for education and its savings reserve. But they complained that state spending is still growing faster than the Colorado economy.
“We are increasing spending in this budget almost gratuitously,” said Republican Sen. Bill Cadman, GOP leader in the Senate.
Democrats countered that lawmakers were spending prudently while growing state reserves from 4 percent to 5 percent.
Two years ago, lawmakers were using cash funds and accounting gimmicks while reducing the reserve to 2 percent to balance the budget, noted Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, who heads the Joint Budget Committee.
“I’ve contrasted for you all the things we’re doing this year that I think are reasons to cheer,” Steadman said. “And yet, two years ago, the budget was wildly and bipartisanly popular when we did all of those things.”
Tax receipts in Colorado have been slowly increasing during the past two years. But economists have warned that taxes on one-time stock sales were partly driving that push and it’s not revenue lawmakers can count on.
Under the Senate spending plan, general fund expenditures, which lawmakers control, were expected to be about $8.2 billion next year, compared to $7.6 billion in the current budget year. The state’s total budget, which includes federal money and cash funds, would be about $20.5 billion.
The biggest areas of general fund spending would continue to be K-12 schools, at about $3.1 billion, and the department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which administers Medicaid, at nearly $2.1 billion.
The House will consider the budget next week.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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