House passes 2014 state budget after bitter partisan fight

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DENVER — A $20.5 billion state budget for the coming fiscal year passed the House on Friday morning with nine Republicans — a third of the GOP caucus — joining Democrats in voting a 45-18 bipartisan vote.

Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, succeeded in getting Democrats to adopt an amendment to pay back a debt to the Fire and Police Pension Association that was aimed at securing yes votes from some members of his caucus, a political imperative after Senate Republicans have been blasted because all 15 of them voted against the budget plan.

“Shrinking our debt is an investment in our economic recovery,” Waller said in a statement.

The Republican lawmakers voting for the budget include mostly veteran lawmakers and former committee chairs: Reps. Kathleen Conti of Littleton, Don Coram of Montrose, Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch, Carole Murray of Castle Rock, Kevin Priola of Henderson, Spencer Swalm of Centennial, and Waller.

Ultimately, the bitter end to Thursday’s long budget debate didn’t jeopardize the GOP yes votes Waller’s amendment had secured, but some acrimony remained.

Thursday night at the end of a long debate, Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, attempted to introduce a GOP amendment after it had been withdrawn — a political maneuver aimed at forcing Republicans to record votes on a five percent across-the-board spending cut that they’d proposed and then tabled.

Outraged Republicans ripped Democrats for “spiking the football”, while Democrats told their GOP colleagues that they should be willing to take recorded votes on a proposal if they’re willing to bring it up for debate.

“Both sides play games,” said Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, reminding Republicans of their own parliamentary maneuvering just last May when they shut down floor debate in order to prevent the passage of a civil unions bill that GOP leadership opposed.

It was a noticeably different process than last year, when the budget drew near unanimous support from both sides of the aisle.

Republicans who voted no also took issue with the spending increases in virtually every area of state government. Democrats looked to highlight the $194 million funding increase for capital construction and maintenance projects, which they believe will help create new jobs.

The budget also invests $19 million in Colorado’s mental health system, expanding hospital capacity, enhancing Colorado’s crisis response system, establishing a single statewide mental health crisis hotline and improving community care services — all changes proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in response to last summer’s Aurora theater shooting.

The budget also directs an additional $10 million in funding for the state’s beleaguered child welfare services program that will help fund in-home support and prevention services.

State workers cheered the budget, which will provide them a two percent raise, their first in four years.

Lawmakers also increased the state’s reserve fund from four percent of the overall general fund to five percent.

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