Democrats and Republicans in the Colorado legislature have reached an agreement to allocate $300 million for transportation in this year’s budget package, but it’s unclear what will be cut in order to make that spending possible.
“We’re going to dig through the couch cushions,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat and state budget writer who sits on the legislature’s powerful Joint Budget Committee.
The deal was reached as the House was debating the state’s $30.5 billion budget on Thursday and after the Senate agreed to spend an extra $106 million on transportation on top of the initial $230 million that was set aside.
The agreement — which has support from both parties in both chambers — drops that extra appropriation to $70 million, but still represents a major win for Republicans who have been battling to find more money for the state’s roads and bridges.
Democrats in the House say education funding will not be tapped to pay for the extra transportation funds.
“We have ideas, but we don’t want to throw those out there in case they don’t come to fruition,” Esgar said of where the money will come from. “We sat down very specifically and looked at different things, but we don’t want to talk about them yet because we need to make sure they actually work.”
The deal was announced in a quickly assembled meeting of the 41 Democratic representatives in the House, who all crammed into House Majority Leader Alec Garnett’s office to hear the news. They cheered when the agreement was explained.
“This is us getting creative with a couple different parts of the budget and we feel like we can comfortably get to $300 million without sacrificing the big investments that were made in education,” said Rep. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat who also sits on the Joint Budget Committee.
Esgar chimed in: “Or any of your priorities.”
Still, finding the money will be difficult. Each dollar in Colorado’s budget is intensely fought over, so a shift of this size will mark some extraordinary shuffling of funds with less than a month left in the 2019 legislative session.