DENVER (AP) – Possible school cuts in Colorado have prompted some of the first signs of division between Democrats in the Legislature and the Democratic governor.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, a Democrat, is taking on Gov. John Hickenlooper over the governor’s proposed $375 million cut to public schools for next year.

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In a letter sent Monday to Democratic Senate committee chairmen, Shaffer told them to find more cuts to forestall the governor’s schools proposal.

“These potential cuts will have a dramatic and sustained impact on the quality of the school experience and the education of our children,” Shaffer wrote. “Class sizes are already at unacceptable levels and these additional cuts will exacerbate this situation.”

Shaffer told reporters Monday that he wants his chairman to scrub about half of Hickenlooper’s proposed cuts to education by suggesting cuts elsewhere. Shaffer asked for proposals by March 7.

The governor defended the cuts through his spokesman Monday.

“We aren’t happy with the cuts to K-12 either. But balancing the FY 2011-12 budget called for making tough choices,” Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown said in a statement.

Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty is siding with Hickenlooper and chuckled when he read Shaffer’s letter. McNulty said that while Republicans don’t want to cut education, they’re prepared to do it to balance the budget. The Democratic Senate and Republican House will have to agree by the end of session in May on what to cut next year.

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Talking about the governor, McNulty said, “The governor’s acting like a prudent businessman, somebody who’s actually signed the front of a paycheck.”

Senate Democrats are pushing back, though. Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder plans this week to propose a tax hike to go before voters, and other Democrats are taking aim at Hickenlooper’s suggestion to tuck away more cash in a reserve fund, saying that money would be better spent on teachers.

Shaffer said he talked to Hickenlooper about the governor’s budget proposal on Friday. Shaffer was careful not to criticize the new Democratic governor, ailing his proposal “an honest budget.”

But Shaffer quickly added, “It’s a difficult budget to swallow.”

Budget-writers from both parties won’t start making specific budget-cut proposal until late March, after the state gets an updated tax forecast telling lawmakers how much they’ll have to spend.

– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

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