Ef­forts by GOP help shape spend­ing

Demo­cratic pro­grams are be­ing tar­geted by three con­ser­va­tives.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Frank

Months af­ter Colorado vot­ers over­whelm­ingly ap­proved a med­i­cal Aid-in-Dy­ing bal­lot ini­tia­tive, three con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers blocked money to im­ple­ment the new law on moral grounds.

The objection is one of a hand­ful of ex­am­ples in which Repub­li­can law­mak­ers used their clout to re­ject spend­ing in the $26.8 bil­lion bud­get bill that vi­o­lated their so­cial con­ser­va­tive be­liefs.

Demo­cratic Gov. John Hick­en­looper’s ad­min­is­tra­tion re­quested per­mis­sion to spend $44,041 from ex­ist­ing fee col­lec­tions to meet a re­quire­ment in the new law to com­pile data about the use of life end­ing, doc­tor-pre­scribed med­i­ca­tion.

Colorado passed the Aid-in-Dy­ing ini­tia­tive with 65 per­cent sup­port in Novem­ber, and the cost was out­lined in the bal­lot in­for­ma­tion sent to vot­ers. But three Repub­li­can law­mak­ers on the bud­get com­mit­tee voted against the spend­ing, strik­ing it from the bud­get bill.

“I find that (law) so morally of­fen­sive I can­not in any good con­science be vot­ing for us­ing tax­payer dol­lars for any part of this process,” said Sen. Kevin Lund­berg, a Repub­li­can bud­get writer. “There might be a re­quire­ment in

the law, but there’s no re­quire­ment in the Con­sti­tu­tion” to vote for this money.

Other bud­get re­quests this year negated by Repub­li­can bud­get writ­ers for largely ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons in­cluded $5.1 mil­lion in fed­eral dol­lars for the state’s health care ex­change; $745,000 for a bi­en­nial stu­dent health sur­vey that asks about sex and drugs; $18 mil­lion for hous­ing pro­grams for the home­less; and an ex­pan­sion of a pro­gram to pro­vide driver’s li­censes to im­mi­grants liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally.

Taken to­gether, the Repub­li­can dis­ap­proval of new and ex­ist­ing Demo­cratic pro­grams added a height­ened po­lit­i­cal ten­sion to a bud­get process that is of­ten cel­e­brated as bi­par­ti­san. And the po­lit­i­cal tint is ex­pected to color the bud­get de­bate that begins Wednesday in the state Se­nate.

“I think pol­i­tics are cer­tainly ev­i­dent in the bud­get,” said Sen. Do­minick Moreno, a Com­merce City Demo­crat and bud­get writer, who later cau­tioned that he didn’t be­lieve it “played an out­sized role.”

GOP in bud­get process

Part of the po­lit­i­cal dy­namic is how Colorado law­mak­ers write the state bud­get.

Most leg­isla­tive com­mit­tees are con­trolled by the party in power, but the Joint Bud­get Com­mit­tee fea­tures three House mem­bers and three se­na­tors. And the di­vided Gen­eral As­sem­bly makes the com­mit­tee split with three Repub­li­can and three Demo­cratic mem­bers.

It takes four votes, or bi­par­ti­san agree­ment, to get an item in the bud­get. And more im­por­tantly, a 3-3 par­ti­san vote re­jects a spend­ing item, giv­ing GOP law­mak­ers the abil­ity to cut off money even for ex­ist­ing pro­grams put in place by Democrats.

Since tak­ing con­trol of the state Se­nate in 2014, Repub­li­cans de­clined to spend money for a state-backed pro­gram to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tion to women and the state’s air qual­ity divi­sion amid a dis­pute about a cli­mate-ac­tion plan, al­though in both cases they later reached a com­pro­mise.

“This is just an­other case in point to that maxim that it’s eas­ier to ob­struct and it’s harder to lead,” said Pat Stead­man, a for­mer Demo­cratic se­na­tor and long­time bud­get writer.

Lund­berg, one of the Se­nate’s most con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers and a new­comer to the bud­get com­mit­tee, in­jected po­lit­i­cal ques­tions most of­ten into the con­ver­sa­tion this term.

The Berthoud Repub­li­can quizzed De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials about whether school health pro­fes­sion­als re­ferred stu­dents to abor­tion clinics. He com­plained about in­creased spend­ing on Med­i­caid, a health care pro­gram for the state’s poor­est res­i­dents. And he pressed the state’s public health de­part­ment chief about how par­ents can ex­empt their chil­dren from an im­mu­niza­tion pro­gram.

“This is a time and a place to ask the tough ques­tions, you don’t just pass it on,” Lund­berg said of his role this year. … Some peo­ple will in­ter­pret that as be­ing some po­lit­i­cal game but it isn’t, it’s pol­icy.”

Driver’s li­censes

The ques­tion about im­mi­grant driver’s li­censes once again threat­ened to blow up the bud­get bill draft at the 11th hour.

The Divi­sion of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles is cur­rently re­quired to re­duce op­er­a­tions for the pro­gram from three lo­ca­tions to one of­fice af­ter 60,000 ap­point­ments, a thresh­old that is only months away. Democrats wanted to re­move the cap and al­low the divi­sion more lee­way to spend the money col­lected as part of the ap­pli­ca­tion fees.

But Lund­berg and other Repub­li­can bud­get writ­ers re­fused to agree to the change be­cause they didn’t sup­port the Demo­cratic-de­signed pro­gram in the first place.

“There were cer­tain things like that we were fund­ing that we frankly ob­ject to,” said Sen. Kent Lam­bert, a Colorado Springs Repub­li­can and the bud­get chair­man.

In the end, the bud­get writ­ers struck a deal to make the trig­ger 60,000 first-time ap­pli­cants, and ex­empt re­newals — a move that de­lays of­fice clo­sures un­til 2018.

Rep. Dave Young, D-Gree­ley, sug­gested he no­ticed a dif­fer­ence this year but ar­gued the driver’s li­cense is­sue il­lus­trated the com­mit­tee’s will­ing­ness to com­pro­mise.

“I think we have had is­sues that came to 3-3 votes in the past, and we may have had a few more (this year),” he said. “But when you think about it in the con­text of how many votes we ac­tu­ally take on the bud­get, I don’t re­ally see a huge change in that process.”

Ten­sion over bud­get

At other points, the con­ser­va­tive push strained the bud­get-writ­ing process.

Demo­cratic mem­bers ex­pressed deep frus­tra­tion at the GOP protest against the med­i­cal Aid-in-Dy­ing re­quest, sug­gest­ing that the move vi­o­lated voter in­tent. They also noted that law­mak­ers im­ple­ment mar­i­juana-re­lated leg­is­la­tion each year, de­spite the fact that many ob­jected to its le­gal­iza­tion.

“There are other is­sues that I have per­son­ally voted against that have been on the bal­lot,” re­torted Demo­cratic Rep. Mil­lie Ham­ner, the com­mit­tee vice-chair­woman. “But I feel my role as a leg­is­la­tor is to im­ple­ment what the peo­ple voted for.”

But Se­nate Pres­i­dent Kevin Gran­tham, a for­mer bud­get writer, ap­plauded the Repub­li­can mem­bers for hold­ing the line.

“Ev­ery­one goes in there and does it ac­cord­ing to his own con­science,” the Cañon City Repub­li­can said.

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