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Tax credit bill back in the shop

The House Finance Committee spent 3½ hours Wednesday taking testimony on a bill that would allow tax credits for private school tuition before chair Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, took it off the table so that sponsor Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, could do more work on it.

House Bill 11-1048 is the 2011 version of a hardy conservative perennial, a proposal that would allow people to take income tax credits for private school tuition, homeschooling and donations to private school scholarships.

Former education Commissioner William Moloney spoke in favor of private school tuition tax credits while bill sponsor Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, listened.

Former education Commissioner William Moloney spoke in favor of private school tuition tax credits while bill sponsor Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, listened.

Daarel Burnette

Swalm is the prime House sponsor of the bill. A version he introduced last year – when Democrats controlled the House – died in House Finance, along with a similar measure.

Swalm and his supporters argue that while the state would lose revenue to the tax credits, it would save more money by being able to reduce state aid to school districts. Education leaders oppose the idea because they fear it would leave school districts stuck with fixed costs but less revenue.

The finances of the idea are complicated, and the first witness at Wednesday’s hearing was Natalie Mullis, a legislative staff economist who prepared a fiscal study of the bill (read it here).

The rest of the testimony was predictable – and lengthy.

Speakers representing the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the League of Women Voters and the Anti-Defamation League opposed the bill.

Witnesses representing some private schools, conservative religious groups, the Independence Institute and home schoolers spoke in favor of it.

Former education Commissioner William Moloney, who has made a crusade lately of campaigning for improving public education by spending less money on it, talked at length in favor of the bill.

After dark had fallen and the witness list was exhausted, DelGrosso said, “I think we have raised several questions” and that “trying to piecemeal some amendments might not be the wisest decision.”

“I’m going to lay it over a couple of weeks,” he told Swalm. “Maybe you can give the committee a couple of different options.”

Earlier this week the bill got shuffled to House Finance from the House Education Committee because of the possibility it would die there, even with a Republican majority.

Its prospects are uncertain if it makes it to the House floor, and they’re even more doubtful in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Education bills were on calendars all over the Capitol Wednesday. Here are some highlights:

Surprise revival for breakfast program

The Senate Appropriations Committee amended Senate Bill 11-137, a 2010-11 Department of Education budget-balancing bill, to include the disputed spending authority for the Start Smart school breakfast program. There’s been a lingering controversy over this since the Joint Budget Committee a few weeks ago deadlocked 3-3 on a staff recommendation that the program be given $124,229 in additional spending authority to finish the budget year.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, made the successful motion to amend the bill. Some Democrats have tried to make political hay out of the fact that the three JBC “no” votes were cast by Republicans. Democrats earlier this week introduced a separate bill to restore the funding.

Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Republican press office issued a released touting how King had “saved” the breakfast program.

Mesa State personnel bill eats up floor time

The full House gave initial approval to House Bill 11-1007, but it took more than an hour of partisan back and forth.

The bill would allow about 110 classified employees at Mesa State College to vote on whether they want to stay in the state’s personnel system or join the college’s own system.

But, the bill has sparked partisan disputes over state employee unions, the future of the state personnel system and the health of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, hence the lengthy debate and a raft of unsuccessful Democratic proposed amendments, some of them frivolous.

Bill sponsor Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Grand Junction, repeatedly argued Wednesday that Mesa employees were the impetus behind the bill. But Mesa, under President Tim Foster, has worked hard to operate as autonomously as it can from various state systems.

PERA board membership bill killed – and revived

At the request of its sponsor, the House Finance Committee postponed indefinitely postponed House Bill 11-1008, which would have significantly changed the membership of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association board.

The title of the bill contains the phrase “so that a majority of trustees are not members of the association.” Sponsor Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Lakewood said the word “majority” precluded any negotiations or amendments on the bill that would have changed the board membership in other ways, so he decided to kill the bill.

To take care of that problem, Kerr Thursday introduced House Bill 11-1248, which proposes to do much the same thing but which has a much more flexible title.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information