DALLAS - Colorado lawmakers went home a day early Tuesday after delivering an $18.4 billion budget and $1 billion for construction of schools in poor rural areas.
Left undone was a funding measure to keep up with the growing transportation needs in the state. In fact, lawmakers actually reduced appropriations for highways and bridges.
With an election six months away, legislators were reluctant to embrace the increased taxes and fees proposed by a blue-ribbon committee appointed last year by Gov. Bill Ritter. The panel said the General Assembly would need to appropriate $500 million to $2 billion more annually to keep up with transportation growth.
Although Ritter expressed disappointment in the lack of action on the proposals, he noted that a number of different options were debated, including tolling, that would lay the groundwork for future action. "We're in this for the long run," he said.
In addition to the funding for new schools, lawmakers increased spending for capital construction by $188 million, including a number of projects on college campuses around the state. The funding is expected to include bonds.
Among the 662 bills under consideration, the legislature approved one that will ask voters to tighten the process for amending the constitution. Ballots are often crowded with voter initiatives calling for various amendments to the state constitution.
Under Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 - which needs voter approval in November - an initiative would need 50% more signatures to make the ballot and would need signatures from all seven of the state's congressional districts. Requiring signatures from all districts is designed to appease voters in rural areas who say they are not adequately represented in the process.
Among the amendments in the past that have changed the way Colorado levies taxes is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It limits the amount of tax revenue state and local governments can retain without voter approval.
Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said he will propose an amendment that would affect the so-called TABOR rules. His initiative will ask voters to let the state keep tax surplus funds under TABOR to invest in the state education fund. He said his plan would also create a state rainy-day fund, particularly for education, while asking voters to eliminate mandatory education spending increases under Amendment 23.
Romanoff said the plan would still allow voters to approve or reject tax increases. Among his opponents on the issue is Rep. Douglas Bruce, who helped author TABOR in 1992.
In addition to the upcoming elections, lawmakers met against a backdrop of a declining economy and rising foreclosures. So far, the state has not faced the kind of revenue shortfalls that have afflicted neighboring Arizona. Lawmakers there are seeking ways to cut spending by up to $3 billion.