DENVER — Debate of the budget in the Colorado Senate is shaping up to be a pillow fight compared to what is expected when the spending bill reaches the House this week.
House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, likely will lead opposition to the fiscal year 2011-12 budget that calls for $250 million in cuts to education, closing the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility near Las Animas and eliminating the Circle Program at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. The program treats those with a dual diagnosis of mental health and substance-abuse issues.
“We’re going to try to amend the budget in a fashion that protects our kids, our schools, our future,” Pace said.
House Democrats are outnumbered not only in their own chamber, but within the context of the budget compromise on its way from the Senate. House Republicans dug in and won key additions to the budget by withholding their approval for the compromise that House Democrats do not find palatable.
Among the Republican victories in the compromise were reinstating sales tax exemptions on agricultural products and software. The GOP also scored on its objective to reduce state withholding of sales tax from retailers (or vendor's fee) by $120 million over the next three years.
“How did we do it?” asked Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, during a House Republican caucus on the budget last week.
He marveled that Republicans had toiled unsuccessfully for years to gain similar concessions from Democrats.
House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, answered: Persistent negotiation and reasonable foils in Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget office made the deal possible.
He said the Joint Budget Committee also set up a framework for the budget that left compromise within reach.
Absent from those McNulty praised for cooperating was Pace.