Pollution

Colorado budget passes House with education, air pollution hikes

DENVER (KDVR) — The state budget for Colorado’s 2022-2023 fiscal year passed the House by a vote of 41-24 on Thursday.

In total, lawmakers approved more than $38 billion for different departments, but not everyone is happy with their decision.

While some say they are excited about the investments programs around the state will receive from the funding, others said they want the state to slow down on spending and do more saving.

Pointing to the $38.1 billion budget, House Minority Leader Hugh McKean said “that’s a lot of money.”

Colorado education budget would increase

A lot of money will go to many different areas of state government, but a highlight this year is education.

More than $7 billion is being allocated for education this year, a nearly 12% increase from the past budget. It also includes an additional $5.4 billion for higher education and $8.2 million for early childhood education.

“The balanced budget includes historic investments in K-12 education,” Rep Leslie Herod, D-Denver, sponsor of the long bill and a Joint Budget Committee member. “We know that some young people left the school system during the pandemic, but they need to come back to schools that are ready to serve them. This means more money for our teachers. This means smaller classroom sizes like we’ve all been asking for.”

Health care funding in Colorado would see boost

Health care would also see a major boost if the bill passes as it stands, with more than $14.2 billion allocated, including a raise for nursing home and state workers. Lawmakers said this year’s budget is bigger in part thanks to federal funding the state got during the pandemic.

“The pandemic and the last impacts of the economic downturn have caused a very complicated budget scenario: We have billions of dollars coming in from the feds, we have our existing state dollars and we have to look at the issues that are important to Colorado, ” Herod said. “As we know, inflationary pressures are a huge part of that.”

Air Pollution Control division would see big hike

Some lawmakers who voted against the big bill say they want to state to use those dollars differently.

“With this record-high inflation, I think some of these things are exactly like I said: We need to pay down some things we would never be able to get down any other way,” McKean said. “The unemployment trust fund: That’s been my focus all along. But then also, we need to make really good decisions so you don’t grow government during a time of lots of money, so when we do have a downturn, all of a sudden we’re having to lay off huge swaths from each department.”

“There is one department, the Air Pollution Control division, it went from getting $660,000 last year to getting $45 million this year, and no one can really, truly define what that is going to go to,” McKean said. “Those are the places where I say, let’s not spend those dollars right now. Let’s talk about what you are doing with them and figure that out.”

Lawmakers who support the funding for the Air Pollution Division point to the damage done by wildfires, saying these extra dollars are meant to clean up a growing air pollution problem in the state.

Budget moves to Senate

Those who worked on the budget said they were able to get this done while ensuring the state still has enough money in the reserve. The bill heads over to the state Senate now, where they will work on it next week, determining if the measure needs more adjustments or can head to Gov. Jared Polis as it is.

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