DENVER POST, Denver, Colorado, Thursday, April 7, 2005.

Raucous Senate OKs budget plan

By Chris Frates
Denver Post Staff Writer

The Colorado Senate approved the state's $14.9 billion spending plan Wednesday following an afternoon of raucous debate that included everything from charges of pork-barrel spending to circumcision jokes.

The debate was the first time all 35 senators had the chance to tinker with the budget and insert funding for pet projects into the 675-page document.

Democratic Sen. Jim Isgar convinced his colleagues to spend $136,471 for a mental-health center outside Durango. But the tight budget forced Isgar to cut an equal amount from another program.

He chose to cut funding for Medicaid-covered circumcision - eliciting several bad jokes.

"The cruelest cut of all," said Republican Sen. Ron Teck, recycling a line from last year's budget debate.

Democratic Sen. Lois Tochtrop said, "I rise to the occasion to support this amendment."

At one point, Democratic Sen. Deanna Hanna had to remind the upper chamber's members where they were.

"Senators, we are grown-ups. Please listen to what Sen. Isgar is saying," she said over laughter. "It's not a middle school, if I may say so."

The debate did have more serious moments.

Republican Senate leader Mark Hillman said a list of projects recommended by the budget committee had an "unmistakable political pattern." Several projects added to the list were in the home districts of Democrats who control the committee.

Democratic chairman Sen. Abel Tapia defended the choices, noting that the bipartisan panel voted for a project in his district.

Republican Sen. Tom Wiens tried and failed to remove the $111,000 in state funding for the University of Colorado's ethnic-studies department because of professor Ward Churchill's controversial writings.

Shortly after, Republican Sen. Jim Dyer appeared to be nodding off as he sat, eyes closed, off to the side of the chamber. Several minutes later, he got up and said, "Well, so much for siesta."

Lawmakers introduced more than 30 amendments to the budget and passed about a half dozen. Almost the entire debate focused on the $6.2 billion in general-fund spending for fiscal 2005-06. The rest of the money that makes up the $14.9 billion budget is special cash funds and federal funds.

(File created 24 April 2005)