$34.1 billion state budget for 2021-22 heads to Polis’ desk
April 30, 2021 – Both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly approved the $34.1 billion Long Appropriations Bill on Friday, but only after a conflict over a change made to one of the amendments – on body-worn cameras for law enforcement – during their debates. The bill, Senate Bill 205, is now ready for action from the governor after the JBC wrapped up its work on Thursday and presented their final report to the General Assembly. The total is about $4 billion higher than the current fiscal year budget.
The JBC, acting as the conference committee on the 2021-22 state budget bill, started off with the Senate’s version of SB 205. To that, they added $1 million in general funds for school bullying prevention, an amendment from the Senate. That was a reduction from the $2 million originally approved by the Senate.
An additional $250,000 in general funds (also half the original request) was approved for a suicide prevention program at the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. A House amendment directing $13.5 million in federal funds for short-term assistance payments also made it into the budget, as did a $1.1 million general fund appropriation to the Department of Natural Resources to help pay for reintroduction of gray wolves. The original House amendment sought $5 million.
The actions taken on Thursday reflect in part the quadratic voting that House and Senate Democrats have been working on for the past week, which are intended to help members decide which amendments to support and which bills still moving through the process will be funded in the next month. Funding for the amendments to the Long Bill are competing for the same $50 million set aside for last-minute spending in the 2021 session.
Most of the amendments that tap general fund dollars and approved Friday got less funding than originally sought, including a Senate and House request to fund a chief educational equity officer in the Department of Higher Education, originally funded at $160,000 but reduced in the conference committee to $125,000.
The Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program at the Department of Human Services, slated for a boost of $1,044,849, instead was approved for $250,000. The conference committee rejected a request for $5 million in general fund for a domestic abuse program, also at DHS.
A $5 million appropriation for the Department of Local Affairs for an affordable housing grant program, and $2 million for mental health screenings for school-based health centers at CDPHE, with general funds as the source for both, were both rejected.
There will be more money, but not as much as sought, for the Department of Public Safety’s body-worn camera grant program; originally, lawmakers approved a $3 million general fund boost; that was reduced to $1 million.
Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, made an effort to restore the full funding of the amendment, but that died on a 3-3 bipartisan vote.
During action on the Long Bill, the Senate added 14 amendments that would have increased general fund appropriations by $21.8 million and by a total of all funds of $33.5 million. The House adopted 12 of the Senate’s 14 amendments, as well as six of their own, increasing appropriations by a total of $55.4 million, including $30.2 in general fund dollars.
On Friday, JBC member Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Littleton, explained to the House the changes the conference committee made to the Long Bill, explained that for some amendments that were not funded, federal stimulus dollars expected later this year are potentially a source for those programs. And although she voted against SB 205, Ransom urged her colleagues to support the conference committee report.
JBC Vice-chair Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, said there were things to celebrate: $10 million from the state education fund for special education; adding the equity officer in higher ed, adding staff to handle increased complaints in the state’s Civil Rights Division, and restoring money for the Grampsas Fund, which had been cut last year.
Reduced funding for the body-worn camera program topped the list of complaints for Republicans. Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, said during Senate debate that the cost of more cameras for law enforcement officers at $10 million.
Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, called the requirement an unfunded mandate of the program, which arose out of the changes from Senate Bill 20-217, the law enforcement accountability bill, and it would be a burden on rural police and sheriff departments.
“I’m not proud of the all the work that’s done,” because of what he called a lack of consideration for the nine sheriffs in the counties he represents on the Eastern Plains. “My district is not happy today.” To the JBC, he said, “You didn’t get it right.”
Assistant House Minority Leader Rep. Tim Geitner, R-Falcon, agreed. “That money has to come from those agencies someplace else,” he said. “That’s not our right.”
Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, suggested that reducing the funding from $3 million to $1 million appears to violate the rules. She pointed out that when both the House and Senate approve an amendment, it goes onto the Long Bill as adopted. She also noted that the original body-worn camera program, set up in 2015, had no funding and was to solicit gifts, grants and donations.
“Even with the additional $3 million … it is still a very small percentage of the overall cost to police departments. It is astounding to me when we have the money, the $50 million to fund new programs, that we will not meet the commitment and expectation of the House and Senate to provide this additional money for something we mandated.”
“We expect the will of the House and the will of the Senate to be respected,” Carver said.
The argument also was taken up by House Minority Leader Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland. They didn’t tell police departments they might have to buy those cameras, “we told them they had to,” he said, but then gave them little money for it. For just one department, which he didn’t identify, the cost would be $1.6 million.
“We have the money. We chose not to do it,” he said, his voice rising. “It’s not fair for us to make a policy decision in this building, this chamber … to send it on its way and then not do our jobs.”
McCluskie responded to the complaints. “We struck a compromise, heard your voices, and applied an additional $1 million to this program,” she said, referring to the conference committee decision. JBC is committed to seeing how those dollars are spent, and consider additional funding for the next year, she told the House.
“This is how we get funding for so many vital programs. Today is the day we pass the budget,” she said.
She asked the House to look at the comprehensive work done by the conference committee that she said will make a huge difference to the people they serve.
The conference committee report was adopted on a 39-24 vote, with two Democrats absent. Ransom voted for it; Rep. Don Valdez, D-La Jara, was the only Democrat to vote against it. Ransom and Valdez switched their votes on final approval.
Senate Republicans had the same problem with the conference committee action on the body-worn camera grant program. “It was a bipartisan amendment,” with a two-thirds vote in the Senate chamber, Cooke said. He said he found it disturbing that three people (referring to the 3-3 vote by the JBC) could dictate to the Senate when two-thirds voted for the amendment.
Rankin, although he voted in committee to keep the camera funding at $3 million, said the committee respected the will of the House and Senate. The funding for the cameras or other items won’t come in just one year, he said, and indicated stimulus dollars will likely cover some of that.
“We will fund every one of these issues to the extent the need is there,” he told the Senate. “We can find ways to fund those items going forward.”
JBC Chair Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, in asking for approval of the conference committee report, said the discussion reminded him of the Rolling Stones song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
“Welcome to the budgeting process, colleagues. Tradeoffs are made. Not everyone gets what they want,” he said. “You don’t charge us with funding every single one of your amendments in full. You charge us with balancing the budget. That is our job, and it is a hard job, and we have to balance priorities and make hard decisions.”
The conference committee report was adopted by the Senate on a 25-9 vote. The Long Bill, SB 205, won passage on a 28-6 vote and now heads to the governor.