SESSION HIGHLIGHTS, MAR 28 – APR 1, 2016
Appropriations Bill Leaves House
This morning, the House of Representatives voted 39-26 to pass a balanced 2016-17 state budget, marking the beginning of a power-struggle between the House and Senate as each chamber tries to find agreement on the final details.
HB16-1405, the budget “long (appropriations) bill” amounts to $27.1 billion in state spending. Colorado’s economy has been growing at a slower pace than in recent years. However, according the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB), the labor market remains strong and the state is enduring the oil and gas industry’s contraction better than other states. The northern front range continues to bolster the economic indicators for the state and rural areas and regions with oil and gas activity are experiencing weaker economic activity.
In tune with that pace, the 2016-17 budget is 1.8 percent bigger than the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
As a result:
· The amount that the state owes school districts because of Referendum C – the so-called “negative factor” – would be reduced slightly, from $855.2 million to $830.7 million. The JBC departed from the governor’s proposal for a “negative factor” increase. Per-pupil spending will increase by $112, to $7,425.
· Payment rates for medical providers will remain the same, as opposed to the the cuts proposed by the governor.
· Investment in higher education will stay as they are. This avoids the $20 million cut recommended by the governor. No continued investment by the state means that tuition hikes in the near future at most of Colorado’s public colleges and universities are likely.
· The statutory 6.5 percent budget reserve will hold.
· Taxpayer refunds will not be not triggered under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) formula.
· The governor’s proposed reduction of the hospital provider fee by $100 million will be halved, to $50 million.
· Transfers will be made to the state’s capital construction fund under Senate Bill 09-228 will be in the full amount, but transfers to the highway fund would be reduced by $50 million, representing a 25 percent reduction.
Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) chairwoman of the priority-setting and budget-drafting Joint Budget Committee (JBC), told the House this morning that she was not pleased with the funding levels for higher education, hospitals, road construction, K-12 schools and state employee salaries. “Having said that,” she continued, “I’m here telling you that we have a budget that is balanced.”
“When we started this process we were looking at terrible cuts,” she said. “We made what I believe are the best decisions that we could have made, given our constraints that we’re operating under in budgeting in the state of Colorado.”
Colorado May Become First State to Criminalize ‘Fake’ Service Animals
A bill that passed through the House this week seeks to make it a crime for individuals who intentionally and fraudulently misrepresent a pet as a service animal for their advantage.
Advocates for the disabled community like Angela Eaton, Executive Director of Canine Partners for the Rockies, said her clients who are paired with thoroughly-trained service dogs find fake service dogs to be "a huge problem."
"We've had calls from people who just want a vest so they can fly with their dog in the passenger section of an airplane," Eaton said. "There are well-meaning people out there who feel the dog does provide a service, but they haven't done the proper training. I hope this bill passes so it encourages people to seek that out."
The bill sponsor, Rep. Daniel Kagan (D-Cherry Hills Village), explained that it would make the offense punishable in the same way that taking a disabled parking space is punishable — a $33 surcharge plus a fine of:
• $350 to $1,000 for a first offense;
• $600 to $1,000 for a second offense;
• $1,000 to $5,000 and up to 10 hours of community service for a third or subsequent offense.
HB16-1308 moves to Senate and will be heard in the Judiciary committee on Monday, April 11.
House Attempts Fix for Budget Woes, Debates Hospital Provider Fee and School Finance
Three solutions for Colorado’s current and future fiscal situation were heard in the House this week; all passing through their committees of reference and the Appropriations committee.
Two were sponsored by Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Gunbarrel) to allow Colorado to avoid a TABOR refund scenario which would allow the state legislature to make investments in schools, roads and other priorities as they present themselves.
HB16-1420, with the bipartisan support of the speaker and Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) would repeal the standing Hospital Provider Fee (HPF) and form the Colorado Healthcare Affordability and Sustainability Enterprise (CHASE) to manage a new hospital support program as a state “enterprise.”
The CHASE act would free up around $150 million right away and those dollars could be spent to support Colorado hospitals, avoid budget cuts projected for FY2017-18 through 2020, and make about $2 billion available for education and transportation. All without raising taxes, supporters say.
The CHASE act’s companion bill, HB16-1421, creates spending guardrails so the new allocations would restore the cuts (laid out in this year’s long bill) to schools, roads and hospitals.
Henry Sobanet, director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB), testified in the Appropriations committee (the committee of reference) that without the CHASE act, budgetary penchants “will necessarily crowd out education funding and transportation funding in the general fund.”
The CHASE act bill passed on a 7-6 party-line vote. The companion guardrails bill passed 8-5 with bipartisan support.
The next major bill affecting the state budget is HB16-1422, the bipartisan School Finance Act. The bill, sponsored by Joint Budget Committee (JBC) members Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) and Millie Hamner (D-Dillon), sets funding levels for the coming school year. It passed the Appropriations committee this week 9-4 after passing the House Education Committee on Monday on a 9-2 vote.
HB16-1422 calls to grow funding for K-12 schools and does not worsen the state’s debts to school districts, the so-called “negative factor.” This move was unexpected as Governor John Hickenlooper’s (D) budget proposal released in November grew the K-12 negative factor by $50 million and cut the state education fund by $240 million.
All three bill have not yet been heard on the House floor for second reading. Now that the House has completed their work on the overall budget package, these bills will be heard and debated at length early next week.
Point Gallery Features the Works of Conn Ryder
The CLS team would like you to join us in celebrating Connie (Conn Ryder) – our very talented office manager – who will be featured at Point Gallery in Denver (765 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO 80204) for the entire month of April. The exhibition’s opening tonight coincides with the First Friday Art Walk on Santa Fe and will spotlight her incredible abstract works.
If you can join us tonight, admission for the event is free and the gallery will be open throughout the evening and the gallery will be open from 5:30.
You can find Connie’s art on her website: www.connryder.com
Hope to see you there and again, if you cannot make it tonight, her work will be spotlighted ALL MONTH LONG. Please do not miss what is sure to be a fantastic show.