Yeas and nays for state budget 

We must be thoughtful.

Colorado’s budget is constitutionally required to be balanced, so last week, the House debated exactly how to do that. It’s never easy.

The budget is called the “Long Bill,” because it is indeed long – 195 pages.

The six members of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) – four Democrats, two Republicans; three from the House and three from the Senate – reflect the current balance of the Legislature. They spend five months listening to budget requests from state departments, balancing those requests with the quarterly financial predictions, then creating a budget based on conservative expectations of income and the needs of the state.

The JBC presents “orbital” bills to the Legislature, companion measures accompanying the Long Bill, aligning it to state law. House members discuss and vote on them, then always offer amendments; this year we offered about 86. Technically, we probably shouldn’t offer to amend something the JBC has been working so hard on, but all of us try to get one last request in.

I offered two: one to give our rural district attorneys more pay, because they are getting harder and harder to find and keep. The other requests money be transferred from the State Education Fund to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund to subsidize the BEST Program, which helps schools with capital needs. That is especially needed in rural Colorado

Both failed, for now, but we hope to bring them back in the Senate after the Long Bill passes the House. Whatever happens, JBC members will have to reconcile the $11 million worth of amendments with the budget they have already balanced. House members were asked not to take any money out of the General Fund and to specifically identify where the money is to finance our amendment. 

We do not follow rules well, it appears. 

I voted “no” to move $2 million from the General Fund into the School Security Disbursement Fund, which  helps schools keep kids safe by offering a selection of offerings like cameras, scanners and detection systems. 

On X (Twitter), I was accused of not wanting our students to be safe, which is ridiculous. We just passed a bill in the Education Committee giving $2.7 million to that same fund; it is waiting in Appropriations. Spending an additional $2 million now depletes our entire legislative budget.

I voted “yes” to keep the JBC recommendation to move money to equalize mill levy override funding for Charter School Institute students. This payment is based on an agreement made in 2017. I received a lot of heat for supporting public charter schools over traditional public schools. What I really support is keeping promises. 

I voted “no” on several amendments taking money from funds where they were needed. Some suggested closing down most of the governor’s office, including the communications branch. That doesn’t do much for our transparency needs. Others took from the Attorney General’s office because they hadn’t spent it yet. I don’t want to punish effective money management. 

One amendment took money from the Public Health Disease Control fund to pay for one new school bus in one district. Several wanted money from the Severance Fund, which helps mitigate the impact of oil and gas activity and funds programs supporting Colorado Parks and Wildlife, water and other natural resource areas. This would devastate parts of rural Colorado.

Thoughtfully balancing the budget making all 100 legislators happy is monumental. Stay tuned for the Senate battle.

–Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango