Updated: March 17, 2009 at 12:00 am
DENVER • The state Senate on Tuesday gave final approval to a bill that would give the Legislature broader powers to spend state money without limits on spending growth.
Senate Bill 228, sponsored by Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, would repeal a 1991 law known as Arveschoug-Bird, which limits the growth of General Fund spending to 6 percent of the previous year's spending. The bill also would essentially kill a mandate that funnels extra money above that limit into capital construction and transportation.
Republicans called the bill a direct attack on transportation funding and said that without Arveschoug-Bird, the Legislature could direct previously protected transportation funding into other programs, such as education and health care.
"It's pretty painless to play poker when you're using someone else's chips," said Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs.
Republicans also charged that another 2009 bill, to raise automobile registration fees to fund road and bridge repairs, was meaningless without the locked-in funding protected by Arveschoug-Bird. The registration fee hike was dubbed FASTER by Democrats and is aimed at creating jobs and funding road repairs.
"This bill is the final blow to the great bait-and-switch scheme of 2009. (FASTER) was the bait, and Senate Bill 228 is the switch," Cadman said.
But Morse said there wouldn't be any mandated transportation funding under the current system for the next several years, since state income has dropped and the transportation funding mandate only applies in years when the state collects excess revenue.
The Legislature seeks to cut about $1 billion from the 2008-2009 budget as well as the 2009-2010 budget. Without SB228, it would be able to restore only part of those cuts and couldn't expand its budget based on prerecession numbers.
Morse also said Arveschoug-Bird had been "ratcheting down" the budget for years, since it didn't account for cuts made during recessions. He said that without the bill, the state will be far worse off once the current economic crisis ends.