The state Senate gave initial approval to an $18.2 billion 2010-11 state budget Thursday evening after a nearly seven-hour debate that touched on topics as varied as metal detectors at the Capitol and solitary confinement for prisoners.
Republicans tried to push across-the-board cuts to the state payroll but did not offer specific programs they believed should be pared.
A final vote is scheduled for today, and the budget likely will then move into conference committee.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the Democratic-led legislature was not adequately preparing for what could be up to a $1.3 billion budget shortfall in the 2010-11 budget year, which begins in July.
The most recent budget forecast suggests state revenues have recovered some and that, together with already undertaken budget-balancing actions, Colorado could face a shortfall as little as $212 million next year. Economists, though, have strongly cautioned that figure is likely to be much higher.
"This budget is business as usual," Penry said. "There is no plan; it's silent to deal with the $1 billion cliff coming."
Penry said state government growth is on "autopilot" in Colorado.
Republicans called for across-the-board cuts from state agencies, the largest of which would have cut $396.8 million from the general fund and cash fund appropriations to state agencies.
That amendment failed, as did one that would have cut $65.9 million from agency budgets over three years and another to eliminate short-term disability benefits and dental plans for state workers, saving an estimated $10.3 million.
Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, a member of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee that writes the spending plan, said state workers have sacrificed enough, by taking eight furlough days this fiscal year and increasing their pension contributions by 2.5 percent. They received no pay raises for two years and their medical costs have increased, she said.
She said the across-the- board approach Republicans favored was poorly conceived. There is no way to trim the state payroll without deciding which programs are not most needed, she said.
"If you're going to lay off employees, you've got to shut something down," Keller said.
The Senate also rejected an attempt by Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, to take about $10.8 million meant to open a solitary confinement wing at a new prison in Cañon City and use the money for mental- health and substance-abuse treatment for prisoners.
Carroll said there already are too many prisoners in solitary confinement who are mentally ill, and some federal courts have said solitary is unconstitutional.
Keller and others, though, said the solitary confinement wing is meant to separate out the most violent offenders, some of whom have killed or assaulted other prisoners or guards. She said prisoners who need mental health programs would be more likely to get them once "predators" are removed from the general prison population.they are safe from predators.
Senators also declined to cut staffing for the metal detectors at entrances to the Capitol, saving $840,000. Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said citizens are "electronically frisked" at the doors like criminals while legislators and staff can pass through unhindered.