Legislative Session Wrap-Up, Part 3: Legislative and Budget Overview

This is part 3 of a 4-part series documenting the CWBA's Public Policy Committee's efforts during the 2022 Legislative Session. Part 1 is available here and part 2 is available here. Stay tuned for the final installment, which will be posted on 8/17.

2022 Legislative Overview


House Republicans threw a last-minute scare into majority Democrats as the 2022 legislative session hurtled to a close. But GOP procedural slowdowns in the House on days 118 and 119 turned into general amity and mostly good feelings on the final, 120th day, and Democrats went home and into the election season knowing they had achieved much of their ambitious 2022 legislative agenda.


Still, the session was not without plenty of rough spots, lots of compromises forced by interest groups and Republicans, internal conflicts among party factions and some sparring between legislative Democrats a meddling—and by some reports imperious—Gov. Jared Polis. The stories of four bills illustrate the dynamics of the session.



Fentanyl


Rising crime rates—and dramatically rising death rates from fentanyl and other illegal drugs—provided Republicans with an issue to push in the 2022 election cycle. Colorado legislative Democrats, led by more progressive members, have supported drug decriminalization in recent sessions so found themselves in a corner on this issue.


The fentanyl criminalization and harm reduction (HB 22-1326) bill wasn’t introduced until March 25 and went through long hours of testimony, many meetings and multiple amendments until it was finally resolved after 7 p.m. on the final night of the session.


The final, again-amended version is complicated but basically sets the prosecution burden of proof for felony fentanyl possession higher than the House wanted but lower than the Senate proposed. There were Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the final vote.


The controversy is not over. Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers called for Gov. Jared Polis to veto the bill and call a special session. Polis is believed to support the bill.


Public Employee Collective Bargaining


Top Democratic leaders—Senate President Steve Fenberg of Boulder and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo—pushed this in solidarity with public employee union activists.


The bill (SB 22-230) started as a proposal to allow public employees to unionize. Opposition and lobbying were fierce, and the bill draft went through several iterations—and trims—before it even was introduced. It surfaced on April 25 as a proposal to allow only county employees to unionize. The bill was a focus of Republican delaying tactics in the session’s final days, and it was trimmed further—small counties were exempted—before final passage on the session’s last day.


Regulation of Nicotine Products


This measure (HB 22-1064) highlighted a clash of progressive priorities, and the power of the governor. This bill was introduced Jan. 14, very early in the session, as a ban on flavored tobacco and vaping products, primarily as a way to discourage youth vaping. It was pushed strongly by a coalition of medical and health groups.


Such a ban was projected to reduce state tobacco tax revenues—some of which are earmarked to pay for the state’s new universal preschool program. The bill went through various versions as exceptions to the ban were tacked on. But, bowing to an expected veto, a Senate committee killed the bill on the second-to-the-last day of the session.


Abortion


The progress of this bill (HB 22-1279) was the clearest example of pure Democratic priorities prevailing without any concessions to Republican quibbling. The bill enshrines in state law a woman’s right to choose. It was introduced March 3 and signed into law April 4, well ahead of the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion overturning the Roe v. Wade decision.



FY 2022-23 Budget Overview


State finances are a major focus of any legislation session, regardless of which party holds the majority. There were four main money issues this session—the main state budget, school funding, use of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) pandemic relief money and state taxes. Lawmakers had the luxury of budget surpluses this session, allowing for spending that might not be possible in leaner times.


The total 2022-23 budget includes $37.73 billion from all fund sources for state operations, including $13.72 billion in General Fund spending, up $1.48 billion (12.1 percent) from 2021-22. There is a $2.03 billion, 15 percent reserve.


Having additional state and federal money allowed lawmakers to allocate more money than usual to construction, renovation, and IT projects—$637.5 million.


School Funding


The revenue situation was strong enough that lawmakers flirted with the idea of eliminating the Budget Stabilization Factor, the mechanism that is used to adjust K-12 funding to keep the overall state budget balanced every year.


But in the end the annual school finance act, HB 22-1390, reduced the Budget Stabilization Factor to $321.2 million. Beyond that, it sets next year’s Total Program Funding at $8.42 billion, or an average of $9,559 per student, pumps an extra $300 million into the State Education Fund as a cushion for K-12 funding increases in future years, increases mill levy override funding for Charter School Institute schools and expands the fifth-year ASCENT program for high school seniors who take college classes.


A separate measure, SB 22-127, increases state funding for special education students by $80 million.


ARPA spending


The 2021 legislative session put $2.64 billion in federal ARPA money into five special funds for spending by lawmakers in 2022. Recommendations for use of four of the funds were made by task forces that met in the summer and autumn of 2021.


More than three dozen bills concerning use of the ARPA money were passed.


In the end, about $1.4 billion was spent on a variety of purposes, the largest being capital construction, a $600 million buy-down of the state’s unemployment insurance debt to the federal government, and funding for a variety of measures to reduce homelessness.


Another $444 million was spent on behavioral health programs, including expansion of the Fort Logan mental health hospital; $400 million for loans and grants to encourage affordable housing development, and $95 million for workforce development programs, mostly through the higher education system.


For more information on ARPA legislation, use this bill tracker:

https://coloradocapitolwatch.com/bill-analysis/6657/2022/0/



Taxes


State revenues have been so strong that tax refunds have been triggered by the constitutional Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which sets limits on annual growth in the state spending.


Normally refunds are paid the year after excess revenues are collected. And in the recent past refunds have been made through low-profile methods such as temporary tax rate reductions. But under SB 22- 233, refunds of at least $400 for individual tax filers and at least $800 for joint filers will be paid directly, and before this autumn’s elections.


Lawmakers also responded to rising property taxes – and the threat of tax-cutting ballot measures in November, with SB 22-238, a deal brokered by Gov. Polis that temporarily will reduce property taxes by $700 million.


And the legislature approved a variety of suspensions in various taxes and fees, like the licensing fees some professionals pay. One of those bills postponed a new 2-cent-per-gallon gas fee until April 2023 from July. See this bill tracker for information on those measures:

https://coloradocapitolwatch.com/bill-analysis/6538/2022/0/


The $600 million unemployment insurance payoff also is a form of tax relief because that money otherwise would have to be provided by increased assessments on businesses.

Part 4 of the CWBA's 2022 Legislative Session Wrap-Up will be posted on 8/17.
 

To support the CWBA's public policy lobbying efforts, please attend the CWBA Public Policy Committee's benefit eventon August 31st at the Comedy Works in Greenwood Village. This event is open to both CWBA members, and members of the public. Tickets can be purchased here.



There is also a silent auction, with items available for bidding prior to the event and all donated by local women-owned businesses in the greater Denver metro area. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.


All funds raised through this event will support the CWBA's vitally important public policy work and its lobbying at the State Capitol. The CWBA’s public policy work allows it to serve as a strong advocate for issues and legislation important to advancing the interests and well-being of women and children.

 

The CWBA 2022 Legislative Session Wrap-Up was adapted from a report prepared by Aponte & Busam, Public Affairs Consultants and with additional updates provided by CWBA Public Policy Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Publications Committee, Chelsea Augelli.

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