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House amends School Finance Act PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marianne Goodland, Legislative reporter   

As they wrap up work on the 2011-12 state budget, House lawmakers recently found a way to ease a little of the $250 million hit to the state’s K-12 schools.

The House last Thursday, April 21 amended the School Finance Act, Senate Bill 11-230, to reduce the cut by $22.5 million and to set aside another $67.5 million to cover mid-year cuts.

SB 230 sponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, introduced an amendment during the April 21 House debate that would take $22.5 million from the State Education Fund, which would leave the fund with a balance of more than $100 million for 2012-13.

The State Education Fund consists of a 0.33 percent tax on individual and corporate income tax and was set up under Amendment 23, a ballot initiative to increase funding for K-12 schools that was passed by voters in 2000. The monies are to be used to cover minimum funding requirements under Amendment 23 or for other education purposes.

Part of the 2011-12 budget deal made between the General Assembly and Gov. John Hickenlooper requires a minimum $100 million balance be left in the fund, to help soften the blow of what is expected to be another major cut to K-12 education in 2012-13.

The second part of Massey’s amendment would set aside $67.5 million for K-12 from any anticipated increased revenue from the state’s June revenue forecast. Massey told the House that money would be used to cover increases in student enrollment, higher at-risk student enrollment, and for school districts with reduced assessed property tax values.

“We’ve all admitted the fact that a $250 million cut to K-12 is particularly high and very damaging to small and rural school districts,” Massey said. The amendment was crafted with the cooperation of the governor’s office and House and Senate leadership and represents an “outstanding compromise,” Massey explained.

House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, encouraged support for the amendment, noting that the original cut to K-12, as proposed by Hickenlooper in February, was $332 million. With the Massey amendment, that cut would drop to $227.50 million, with another $67.5 million at the ready to prevent mid-year cuts. This may prevent one more school from going to a four-day school week, Pace said.

“This is not a victory,” said Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, one of eight educators in the House. “It is cutting the devastating effects on our classrooms into smaller pieces. We are not putting in more money, we are simply cutting less.” Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster, said more cuts to K-12 are unconscionable and would produce mediocrity. “Sadly, it’s the best we can do.”

The cuts don’t sit any better with Republicans. Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, said he found the cuts appalling but warned of the huge shortfall in the state budget for next year. “I’m excited that we won’t have to cut as much” as was originally proposed, he said.

SB 230 was up for a final House vote on Monday, April 25 and then will go back to the Senate for concurrence on the House amendments.

In other action at the Capitol this week:

SB 126, which would allow undocumented students to receive unsubsidized in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities, was assigned to the House Education Committee, which is chaired by Massey, and is scheduled for hearing this week.

House Bill 11-1005, the repeal of the 2010 state sales tax on agricultural compounds, bull semen and pesticides, passed the Senate Finance Committee on April 19.

“This is a new topic for the finance committee,” quipped the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray. Brophy was referring to the fact that the 2010 legislation that brought back the 2.9 percent sales tax went through the finance committee last year, part of a marathon Feb. 4 session on eight tax bills that went well past midnight.

Jim Smith of Burlington, who works for the Stratton Co-op, testified that co-op employees have been let go as a result of the drop in sales, and while his co-op employs 100 people, smaller ones are getting squeezed by the tax. Ag chemical sales went down 15.2 percent in the last calendar year, while other fertilizer sales not affected by the tax were up 21.9 percent, said Kevin Freund, the co-op’s purchasing manager.

Brophy told the committee that a co-op in southwest Nebraska had been advertising in northeast Colorado for the chemical sales and application, saying that if farmers bought from that co-op they wouldn’t have to pay the sales tax. That cost one of the co-ops in his area (which he didn’t identify) 36 percent of their sales, Brophy said.

Ali Mickelson of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, who testified against HB 1005 when it was in the House, also spoke against the bill in the finance committee last week. The agriculture industry has flourished in 2010, she said, and now is not the time to repeal a measure that has offset cuts in the state budget.

“Everyone has been asked to make sacrifices for their communities,” Mickelson said. “We aren’t saying there aren’t merits in the measure,” she said, “but every dollar counts” when the state is cutting its budget.

Caryle Currier of Colorado Farm Bureau said agricultural inputs are bought year-round, although it’s too late for the spring season, he said. “We take what we can get.” Farmers and ranchers would rather pay a couple of points of interest to the local bank than to the state tax collector, added Brophy.

The finance committee passed HB 1005 on a 7-0 vote and sent it to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Brophy’s effort to put Colorado on daylight-saving time year-round failed to gain light from the Senate Appropriations Committee, which killed SB 22 on April 15.

Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, believes he will get a better response from the new governor on his second effort to pass legislation easing restriction on registration of agricultural motor vehicles, and he has a 98-0 vote from the General Assembly to help him.

Last week, the House concurred with Senate amendments attached to HB 1004 and sent the bill to the governor, and Baumgardner picked up three more votes on the bill, making it unanimous from that chamber. HB 1004 got a 33-0 vote from the Senate on April 13.

Current law requires that county clerks obtain proof that an agricultural motor vehicle, such as a farm truck or truck tractor, is used by someone whose primary business is agriculture. Under HB 1004, that requirement is lifted if the vehicle is used for production on a farm or ranch that is classified as agricultural for property tax purposes.

“I’m really disappointed” that the bill got such poor support, joked Baumgardner this week. On a more serious side, Baumgardner said he was very happy that the bill is now through the legislative process, and said the governor’s office has assured him it will be signed. And Baumgardner intends to ask for a signing ceremony after what happened last year.

Baumgardner’s 2010 legislation passed the General Assembly 99-0, but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Ritter because he believed the legislation was not necessary and could lead to abuse.

Finally, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg’s, R-Sterling, bill on historic water structures is now awaiting action from the full Senate after getting unanimous approval on April 20 from the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

HB 1289 would require the state historical society to get consent from anyone who has a property interest, including water rights, in a water supply structure, prior to the structure’s nomination on the state or national register. In addition, the state engineer would also have to give his consent. HB 1289 is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton. The ag committee sent the bill to the Senate’s consent calendar, which means it should pass the full Senate without debate.