Colorado budget advances in Legislature

J. Paul Brown fights for schools and roads

By Peter Marcus Herald staff writer

DENVER – Rep. J. Paul Brown pushed so many unsuccessful amendments during budget debate in the Legislature on Thursday that he jokingly confessed to his colleagues: “I’m going to have to go home and cry.”

The Ignacio Republican fought mostly for education funding early in the debate, seeking to fund schools with millions of extra dollars by diverting money from other funds and directing surplus revenue that falls under spending caps to education.

“You know K-12 education has to be a top priority in Colorado,” Brown said. “We need to educate these kids. We need to be able to pay our teachers.”

Later in the debate, Brown proposed similar amendments that would have directed money to roads and highways. Democrats killed those efforts as well.

The $27 billion state spending plan passed an initial vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday after a shorter-than-usual five-hour debate. The bill is expected to receive a final recorded vote Friday, before advancing to the Senate.

Brown had the support of Republican leadership, who often teamed with him to push for the amendments.

“There is no other higher priority in this budget than our kids,” said House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, who often thanked Brown for taking the lead.

Brown is up for re-election this year, facing off against Democrat Barbara McLachlan, an award-winning retired Durango teacher and the wife of former Rep. Mike McLachlan.

Education policy is expected to play a key role in the race.

Budget writers – both Republicans and Democrats – pointed out that it took significant maneuvering to balance the budget proposal, which closes the gap in education funding by $24.5 million. Per-pupil spending would increase by $112 to $7,425.

In terms of transportation, budget writers underscored that they proposed investing $150 million in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. Still, roads and highways would see an overall cut of $50 million.

Lawmakers also wrangled over federal air pollution standards. Republicans attempted to strip money from state health officials in an effort to block implementation of new carbon standards required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The U.S. Supreme Court in February halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan pending resolution of legal challenges.

“We’ve got a Clean Power Plan that the governor is going forward with that we didn’t vote on that is taking money away from doing what CDPHE is supposed to be doing,” Brown said.

Democrats, however, killed the amendments, stating that they did not want to take resources away from a department that works on overall air quality controls, not just those required under the Clean Power Plan.

Other wedge issues that crept into the budget debate were abortion and family values.

Some Republicans attempted to block funding for a survey given to students on a range of topics, including drug use and sexual activity. The GOP lawmakers felt the questions were inappropriate for a young audience.

Those same GOP lawmakers – Reps. Patrick Neville of Franktown and Kim Ransom of Littleton – also attempted to prohibit state universities from participating in fetal tissue research programs and to block funding for state-sponsored birth control programs.

When Democrats blocked the fetal tissue amendment from being heard over legal concerns, Neville responded by asking for all 581 pages of the so-called Long Bill to be read in its entirety. After a short while, however, he withdrew the request.

“They’re playing games, so I’m now playing my own game,” Neville said.

Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, responded: “We’re not playing games, we’re here to do the people’s business. We’re trying to pass a budget that makes the needed investments.”

pmarcus@durangoherald.com