The one bill that the Colorado General Assembly must pass every year is the budget. Also known as the “Long Bill,” SB-230 is in its final stages of making its way to the governor as the session winds down. Although far from perfect, the bill is a compromise that earned my support during its initial vote in the House. Whether I stick with the final product depends on how it returns to us after what promise to be tense negotiations with the Senate.
At $21.9 billion, this is the largest budget in state history. There is a “good news, bad news” aspect about the budget. The good news is that state revenues, and hence the state budget, are a direct reflection of the economy. And what's not to like about a growing economy? The bad news is that with the state firmly in Democratic control, we will spend every penny that comes in with no thought given to refunding surpluses to taxpayers.
Primarily because it was the most money the state has ever spent in a year, not one Republican voted for it in the Senate. While I certainly share the concern about ever-larger government, there were important concessions made by House Democrats that caused me to join with 18 other House Republicans to support the measure. The most important of these was Democratic support for a Republican amendment to set aside $141 million to repay, early and in full, a state debt to the Fire and Police Pension Association that dates back to the 1970s. Not only will this repayment assure the retirement of our first responders, the action will also save the state approximately $26 million in interest payments that, without doubt, can be better spent than making interest payments.
Another aspect of the bill that appealed to me was that it increased the state's “rainy day fund” by 1 percent, or $76 million. Given the obvious shortage of real snow and rain this winter, another ugly wildfire season will soon be on us. Putting aside more for emergencies is prudent.
It wouldn't be a Long Bill without histrionics and podium-pounding by one or both sides. This year they were provoked by Democrat and Budget Committee member Crisanta Duran and her last-minute amendment to provide college scholarships to illegal immigrants. I will be an emphatic “No!” if this amendment isn't taken out of the bill before I vote for a last time.
With the Colorado economy in a steady, if far from spectacular recovery, it won't be long before the Legislature will be in the position of being confronted with mandatory taxpayer refunds under TABOR. With only one full session before me before I am term-limited, I urge vigilance by Colorado taxpayers to make sure that legislative chicanery doesn't deprive them of what is rightfully theirs: the full share their hard-earned TABOR refunds.
State Rep. Spencer Swalm serves House District 37, which includes Centennial.