DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s Republican-led Senate this week sent a $28.6 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 to the Democratic-led House. The bill mirrors the recommendations of the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee, which drafted the budget after eliminating a $700 million gap.
Here are some things to know about it:
SORRY, NO REFUNDS
Thanks to a strong economy, Colorado’s revenues surpassed the limit set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and taxpayers could have been entitled to $284 million in refunds in 2018. To deliver a constitutionally-mandated balanced budget, the JBC decided the refunds — and a whole lot more — had to go.
Budget writers had little option but to cut the support Colorado’s hospitals will get under a federal matching-grant program as they serve the uninsured and Medicaid recipients. The $264 million cut largely eliminated the tax refund, but it cost hospitals more than $500 million in support. A pending bill could fix that.
The budget bill increases per-pupil spending by $185. But the unpaid tab for public education would reach a cumulative $880 million thanks to a legislative IOU that allows the state to postpone constitutional spending mandates.
SENIORS AND SEVERANCE
The bill did away with a proposal by Gov. John Hickenlooper to trim the senior homeowner exemption on the first $200,000 of property taxes. But it would take $45.7 million in severance taxes that are supposed to help communities affected by mineral extraction.
The Senate decided against raising judicial salaries by 3.1 percent — not because judges don’t deserve it, but because a Colorado law would trigger an equivalent pay hike for lawmakers. Even if their $30,000 salaries haven’t changed since 1999, it’s not a good political move in these days of cutting. State workers, however, might get their first (albeit slight) pay hike since 2014.
POT AND HOUSING
The Senate reluctantly restored $16 million in marijuana tax revenue for affordable housing programs, including housing for the homeless and people with behavioral health needs. It’s a priority for the governor, who as Denver mayor tried to tackle the city’s homeless issue.
THE TARANTINO EFFECT
Senators eliminated $3 million in state film incentives. Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight” didn’t help; though filmed in Colorado, it was set onscreen in a Wyoming winter cabin. The incidental bloodletting also offended many senators.
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD
The bill proposes just $79 million for transportation in the discretionary spending part of the budget. Relief may come in the form of complex and politically-charged legislation inching its way through the Capitol. In the mix: Ask voters to raise taxes? Issue bonds? What does the state build, repair? Does rural Colorado get a shake?
State Medicaid spending grows by $273 million as Colorado enrollment surpasses 1.4 million people.
After intense debate, the Senate restored funding to allow the state to collect information on medical aid in dying, which Colorado voters legalized last year.
By JAMES ANDERSON, Associated Press
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