DALLAS — Colorado lawmakers expect to have an easy time of resolving differences between House and Senate versions of the $19 billion budget after both chambers passed the spending plan with surprisingly strong bipartisan support.
A conference committee this week is expected to begin resolving minor differences in the so-called Long Bill that won passage in the Senate Thursday on a 30-5 vote, just one week after the House passed it on a rare 64-1 vote.
Both versions of the budget provide about $7.5 billion in state general fund spending. The Senate version includes an amendment that shifts $2 million from private prisons to services for veterans.
Both chambers supported restoration of the nearly $100 million in annual property tax relief for senior citizens. Funding levels for per-pupil K-12 spending would not change, and higher education funding would remain at nearly the same level.
One of the most significant measures in both versions is a plan to close Colorado State Penitentiary II in Cañon City for a savings of $13.5 million per year.
The facility would be closed in 2013. The 316-bed prison, open for just 18 months and built at a cost of $184 million, has been only about two-thirds occupied as Colorado’s incarceration rate has fallen sharply.
Colorado State Penitentiary II would be the fourth correctional facility in Colorado ordered closed in the last three years due to falling inmate levels.
The state’s prison population has fallen from a 2009 peak of 23,220 to 21,562 in February. By the time the prison closes in 2013, the count is expected to be about 900 inmates lower.
The legislature also approved a study into how more money can be saved in prison costs in the future.
As the revenue crisis of the recent recession years eases, lawmakers rescinded some accounting measures that helped balance previous budgets.
Approved measures restore $46.8 million of severance-tax funding to counties and major water projects and reverse a 2003 provision that artificially pushed payrolls into the next fiscal year. Using cash reserves to pay for general fund spending would also come to an end.