Colorado lawmakers said Monday they’re negotiating a deal that would add another $90 million to the state’s languishing school funding, an issue that has been a major point of contention during embittered budget negotiations.
The additional funding is a possibility because preliminary state revenue forecasts show higher-than-expected revenue gains, the lawmakers said.
Democratic House Leader Rep. Sal Pace and Republican Rep. Tom Massey, who leads the House Education Committee, said the plan is to propose extra $90 million in funding in the annual school finance act when it makes it to the House floor next week.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, proposed a $332 million reduction to K-12 funding but lawmakers lessened the proposed cut to $250 million.
The cuts were proposed to try to close a shortfall of about $500 million.
Pace and Massey said the state revenue forecasts from the nonpartisan Legislative Council, due out officially in June, look to be better than when reductions were first proposed.
But to succeed on the deal, lawmakers will have to maintain the integrity of a budget compromise that took weeks to accomplish. It includes increasing the state’s reserve fund from 2 to 4 percent of the proposed $18 billion budget for 2011-12. It also calls for keeping $100 million in the state’s education fund, a sort of savings account for education funded by income taxes. Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to dip too much into the fund, leaving it slim for future years.
“Obviously nothing will be easy,” Pace conceded.
Massey and Pace said the goal is to immediately restore $22.5 million to schools by transferring surplus money from the state’s education fund, which would still leave it at $100 million. Another $67.5 million would be tacked on if the revenue forecast holds to expectations.
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty said his party is open to discussions on the deal and that it’s a matter of “making sure that all the pieces come together.”
“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to achieve a softening of the blow to K-12 education funding,” said Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty.
During the House budget debate last week, Democrats spent several hours objecting to cutting $250 million from education next year and tried several amendments to add more funding. They voted to approve the budget in the House last week but did so with the understanding that it was possible to boost education funding with the school spending bill later, Pace said. Fourteen Democrats still voted against the budget, though. Every Republican voted for the budget.
Although Democrats have been the most vocal in lamenting the cuts, Massey said the matter is also a priority for his party.
“That’s one of the things that I take exception to when they keep trying to make this a partisan piece where it’s me and 32 Democrats,” Massey said, referring to the number of Democrats in the House. Republicans have 33 lawmakers in that chamber. “Of course the 32 Democrats – because this is right in their wheelhouse – love the issue. But rural Republicans and our leadership have not been anything but supportive also.”