Colo. House cutting $475 million from state budget
DENVER – Colorado lawmakers slashed jobs and state services Wednesday in an effort to cut another $475 million from this year’s budget, targeting education, prisons and Medicaid patients.
The 31 bills approved by the House cut nearly every sector of state government as lawmakers worked to cut $1.5 billion over the next two years. The bills face a third reading before they head to the Senate.
On Tuesday, lawmakers approved and sent to the governor bills that would raise $118 million over the next two years by eliminating tax breaks and imposing a 2.9 percent state sales tax on products including candy and soda, downloaded software and pesticides.
Republicans and the lone House independent lawmaker, Rep. Kathleen Curry, tried to ram through amendments that would force state agencies to cut workers during the current budget crisis, but they succeeded only in cutting $205,000 in the Department of Agriculture. Democrats later reversed that budget cut, saying it was unfair to place the burden on one state agency.
Democrats warned against trying to force Gov. Bill Ritter to make deeper cuts to state employees, saying it would hurt people who depend on state services and could endanger public safety.
Democratic Rep. Jack Pommer of Longmont, a member of the Joint Budget Committee, which approved the budget plan, said a proposal to cut another 6 percent from employee salaries through the end of the year could put lives at risk.
“Our prisons are getting dangerous for inmates and for staff,” he told his colleagues.
Lawmakers said state employees have already suffered a 3.8 percent pay cut this year because of mandatory furlough days.
The House rejected an amendment to adjourn for 30 days, saving $24,700 a day for a total of $741,000. House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, said he agreed with the sentiment, but it would violate the state constitutional requirement that all 550 bills introduced so far have at least an initial hearing and vote.
Lawmakers are also looking at delaying an increase in expense payments to out-of-town lawmakers who have to spend the week in Denver during the session. The move would save $238,005, a small amount compared with other cuts on the table.
The budget cuts approved Wednesday included services for the mentally ill, disabled and people without health insurance and higher education.
Some of the cuts will be covered by federal stimulus funding, but Republicans warned the state is making promises it can’t keep next year unless more federal funding is available.
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