April Fool's Day is always a day to be wary of at the Capitol. A practical joke is usually lurking behind every resolution or amendment. You've got to have a sense of humor to survive and get along in the often emotional, stressful and argumentive environment in which the legislature works. It helps to laugh, and to be a fool for a day!
SENATE PASSES STATE BUDGET
Last Thursday the Senate approved SB 230 on a party-line vote of 19 to 15 and sent the bill to the House. I'm disappointed that my Republican colleagues chose to turn against the work of the Joint Budget Committee, and I'm just a little bit perplexed by their decision.
During the final debate on Thursday I spoke about my perspective on the budget as someone who has now served on the JBC for three years. The first two years were marked by deep budget cuts, accounting maneuvers and the shuffling funds to prop up certain programs at the expense of others. In 2011 the senior citizen homestead exemption was in suspension, a "fiscal emergency" was declared to allow Amendment 35 tobacco taxes to be reallocated to the Medicaid program, cash funds were raided and severance taxes were diverted away from local communities and water infrastructure projects and were instead used to bolster the general fund. Many less than prudent actions were necessary to keep the budget in balance without decimating essential programs. 2012 wasn't much better, but we did fund the senior homestead exemption that year.
Oddly, the budget in both those years enjoyed unprecedented bipartisan popularity. No one could remember budgets winning such overwhelming majorities in both chambers. The budget was held together with popsicle sticks, chewing gum and baling wire, with risky reductions to our reserves and suspension of payments toward debt obligations. But both parties came together to embrace it.
This year is a complete contrast. We've increased our statutory reserve to 5% of general fund appropriations, we're paying off a loan taken from the Veteran's Trust Fund and pre-paying an extra $20 million toward an old debt obligation to an old hire pension plan known as FPPA, a move that saves almost $9 million in interest payments over the remaining life of debt. Cuts to K-12 and higher education are beginning to be restored, and key investments in child welfare, mental health, and services for people with developmental disabilities are included in the budget. Capital construction and maintenance projects will spur the construction sector, creating jobs and economic activity. There are many reasons to cheer for the FY 2013-14 budget, yet partisan politics have visited themselves on the best budget I've seen in my three years on the JBC. Alas!
Click here to read more about the Senate's debate on SB 230, or here to read the blog post I wrote about the budget for my website.
SCHOOL FINANCE ACTS: PRESENT & FUTURE
Today the Senate is scheduled to debate SB 213, Sen. Mike Johnston's proposal to re-write the school finance formula and draw new revenues to adequately fund public education. It's a massive undertaking. The Senate Education Committee made many amendments to the bill, and since then negotiations have continued and further amendments will be considered this morning. It's going to be a long, intense debate.
Sen. Johnston's proposal is contingent upon voter approval of increased tax revenues for public schools, and in the last week dozens of variations of income tax increases have been filed as potential ballot initiatives for this November. If SB 213 is approved by the legislature and voters subsequently approve a tax increase this new school finance formula would become effective. The new formula would bring adequacy and equity to school finance, investing in new reforms and providing resources to struggling students and schools. Sen. Johnston calls SB 213 the "future school finance act." To read more about it, visit Sen. Johnston's website or click here to read the latest fiscal note from our nonpartisan legislative council staff.
Later this week Sen. Evie Hudak and I will introduce the school finance act for FY 2013-14, or what might be dubbed the "present school finance act." Each year the legislature must pass a school finance bill to make the inflation adjustments to the base per-pupil funding amount as required by "Amendment 23" in the state constitution. This yet-to-be-introduced bill will also make other small changes to the current formula, reduce the $1 billion "negative factor" that was inserted three years ago to make budget cuts, and increase our investment in early childhood education. We're still working with budget analysts to determine how much we can afford in the upcoming year while keeping the State Education Fund solvent and sustainable over the coming years. Gov. Hickenlooper proposed reducing the negative factor by $30 million, and we're hoping we can do better than that.
MY APRIL AGENDA
The Joint Budget Committee should have SB 230 finalized sometime next week. The school finance act will keep me busy, but I still have more bills to introduce and House Bills that I'm carrying in the Senate. Here's a quick list of what's crowding my plate in April:
- Pay raises for executive officers. The next Governor and Attorney General deserve a raise, and the Denver Post agrees. My bill proposing higher salaries for the five constitutional officers will be introduced soon.
- Sentencing reforms for drug offenders. The CCJJ unanimously approved recommendations of the Drug Policy Task Force, and the bill is finally drafted and ready to go.
- Relief from collateral consequences for people with criminal records. I've been working to help former offenders reintegrate into society after serving their time. SB 123 gets a hearing later this afternoon.
- More criminal justice reforms, such as CCJJ-recommended authorization of adult diversion programs and compliance with a US Supreme Court ruling on court-appointed lawyers for indigent defendants.
- Addressing a gap in current law for prosecuting crimes against pregnant women that result in the loss of their pregnancy. HB 1154
- Helping RTD, SCFD and the retailers in the district by standardizing the sales tax base. HB 1272
- Removing restrictive fiscal policies that make it difficult for the state legislature to respond to changes in federal funding, an issue made more urgent by sequestration and uncertainty surrounding the federal budget.
- Health care reform implementation, including the wind-down of CoverColorado and the funding for the new Health Benefits Exchange.
For a complete list of the bills I am sponsoring this year, links to their full text and information about their current status, click here to visit my website.
ELSEWHERE IN APRIL
No Foolin'! Lots more is getting done in 2013, and some significant topics remain on the agenda for the last five and a half weeks of the session:
- Medicaid expansion
- Mental health crisis response system
- Marijuana regulation and taxation, implementing Amendment 64
- Fracking and oil & gas development
- Telecommunications reforms and broadband expansion
- Internet sales tax collection
- Wildfire risk mitigation and forest health
- Renewable energy development
- Economic development and job creation
- Plus a whole lot more!
Tuesday, April 9 , 2013, 6:00 to 8:00 pm.
Town Hall Meeting with Rep. Lois Court
This month's conversation will focus on the state budget, which should be nearing final passage as of this date. Come hear the good news about our recovering economy and improving tax revenues. Bring your questions, and bring a friend!
Saturday, April 13, 2013, 6:00 to 8:30 pm.
House District 8 Democrats annual spaghetti dinner fund-raiser
Loyola Catholic Church
23rd & York, Denver
Join us for dinner and support the hard working Democratic activists in House District 8! This annual event is always a good time to meet neighbors and local elected officials. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for kids and seniors. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets online. Hope to see you there!
STAY IN TOUCH
Thanks for reading this update, and please don't hesitate to drop me a line with any questions or concerns you may have. You can use the links below to follow me on Twitter or like my page on Facebook. Let's stay in touch!