Colorado House passes multi-billion dollar budget package with extra school safety money

DENVER – The Colorado House of Representatives passed a $28.9 billion budget package Thursday morning after a marathon session Wednesday afternoon that lasted late into the night.

The final House vote on the budget measure was 42-22. On Wednesday, the chamber worked for 10 hours to go through nearly 100 amendments that were initially filed before coming to a voice agreement.

Among the deals made were one that facilitates spending $35 million on school safety improvements – specifically grants for upgrading school buildings, enhancing security and hiring more school resource officers.

Republicans had sought more money and some Democrats opposed the amendment, but a bipartisan agreement and a plea from Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Columbine survivor, brought the deal into the agreement.

“I have walked the halls of many schools to assess security, organized community simulated active-shooter drills, and was lucky to have never lost a student to an attack in my 40 years as an educator – I want to take every measure necessary to ensure no other educator or school does either,” said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, a retired principal and superintendent.

Democrats were also able to pass their $495 million transportation appropriation bill that could take the place of Senate Republicans’ Senate Bill 1 if it fails. The money has already been set aside by the Joint Budget Committee, and the failure of either measure would lead to the money going to CDOT to spend.

In the unlikely event the Senate does not strike the measure when it comes up for debate, 50 percent of the money would go to local road repairs and upgrades, Democrats said.

“We had an unusual number of amendments and we’ll have to reconcile some budget-balancing issues,” said Joint Budget Committee chairwoman Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. “The core elements of the budget remain: big wins for transportation and education and a strong step toward reform of PERA.”

But minority House Republicans were unhappy that several of their proposed amendments – particularly those related to cutting spending out of programs they deemed wasteful and reallocating the money toward transportation – were shot down by Democrats.

“While we have transportation crisis today, we shouldn’t be saving an unnecessary amount of money for some other crisis at a later time,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument.

Also included in the House-passed budget are millions for K-12 education, extra money for PERA’s liabilities and money for fighting opioids and cybersecurity threats.

The budget, also known as the long bill, now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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