Senate adds $2.8 million for fire victims to next year’s state budget

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Home destroyed by the Lower North Fork Fire. Jefferson County, Colorado. March 28, 2012.

Home destroyed by the Lower North Fork Fire. Jefferson County, Colorado. March 28, 2012.

DENVER — State lawmakers agreed to include $2.8 million in next year’s budget to pay claims to victims of last year’s Lower North Fork Fire, which was inadvertently caused by the state.

Claims from the fire, which began one year ago this week, total roughly $73 million.

An amendment presented by a bipartisan group of lawmakers was one of more than 30 introduced Wednesday during a lengthy floor debate about the $20 billion state budget, $8 billion of which lawmakers control– and one of the few actually adopted.

This year’s improved revenue situation is allowing lawmakers to restore many of the cuts they’ve had to make in recent years; but with Democrats again controlling both legislative chambers, Republicans have little leverage in determining where the money gets spent.

The budget agreed on by the six-member Joint Budget Committee calls for an additional $100 million in funding for schools, $30 million more for colleges, and $30 million to strengthen the state’s mental health system.

Senate Republicans Wednesday proposed a large packet of amendments, including one that would have reduced the 2 percent pay increase for state employees, who haven’t had a raise in four years, to 1.5 percent.

Not surprisingly, that measure was defeated.

Many other GOP amendments, also defeated, were simply introduced to send a message.

Just weeks after a tense debate and passage of several Democratic gun control proposals on the Senate floor, Republicans offered an amendment to completely de-fund the state’s background check program for firearm sales, and use only the federal program instead.

Republicans also introduced their own state-level sequestration measure: a 5 percent across the board cut to state spending.

When that amendment failed, Republicans offered a 1 percent across the board cut — and, when it failed, a 0.1 percent cut.

It failed too.

Democrats also offered a series of amendments, including a proposal to add $2 million in film production incentives to the budget and another to stipulate that Colorado Attorney General John Suthers cannot use state funds to file amicus briefs with the Supreme Court as it considers two cases related to same-sex marriage, which Suthers, a Republican, opposes.

Neither of those amendments were adopted.

Around 6:15 p.m., the Senate finally voted on the so-called “long bill” — the budget is 273 pages long — and gave it an initial okay on a voice vote.

A final, recorded vote will take place Thursday.