DENVER The machines in the cluttered, basement print shop across the street from the Capitol should be humming right now, printing hundreds of copies of the 2-inch-thick state budget.
But the shop is quiet because there is no state budget.
The six lawmakers on the budget committee three Republicans and three Democrats cannot agree on whether to make further cuts to public schools or to take money earmarked for local governments and businesses.
Republicans and Democrats agree on at least 95 percent of their $7 billion budget, but the disagreements over the last $200 million to $300 million are sharp enough that the Legislature has had to shift into low gear while a select group tries to hash out a deal.
The Democrats have all but agreed to Gov. John Hickenloopers plan for a historic cut to public schools, but they dont want to make the cuts any bigger.
On the other side are Republicans who want the state to end the new sales tax on cigarettes and stop raiding money for local governments and businesses.
Hickenloopers budget takes more than $100 million out of savings accounts for local governments and water agencies, and Republicans like Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan dont want to go along with the plan.
The rural areas have kind of given their pound of flesh, said Becker, a member of the Joint Budget Committee.
Republicans are scouring the budget for further cuts, but Democrats say the only possible cut is to public schools.
The tradeoff to those (ideas), if they cant agree on some of that stuff, were going to cut K-12 by $510 million. I dont know where theyre going to get the money, said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee.
Unless Hodges committee comes to unanimous agreement, it cannot send the budget to the Legislature.
This year it is split 3-3 between the parties, and although the members remain friendly, they were far from making a deal Friday.
Hodge adjourned the committee for the weekend on Thursday. And the Senate, which had cleared its calendar to devote next week to the budget, suddenly has nothing to do. It is taking Monday off.
Meanwhile, the other 94 legislators are turning up the heat on the six JBC members.
Senate Democrats held a hearing Thursday to let public school leaders talk about how crippling the proposed cuts would be.
Simultaneously, Senate Republicans sent Hodge a letter outlining all the changes the JBC needs to make to win Republican support for the budget.
The list includes a $65 million expense to resume paying the vendor fee the small sum the state pays businesses to collect sales taxes.
I wanted to be sure they knew what it would take to get our support of the budget. We laid down our key points, and now were negotiating, said Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton. It has pulled us to the table in a fresh, new way.
Indeed, Kopp sat down Friday morning at the media table in the Senate chambers with two JBC members, a Republican and a Democrat.
An improving economy means the state will have more money left over at the end of this budget year in June than economists had expected. Kopp said the money should be used to pay the vendor fee.
The 3-3 tie on the JBC has given Kopps Senate Republicans new political muscle. For six years, they had been steamrolled by Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.
The stalemate represents the best chance yet for Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who has tried and failed all year to prevent the Legislature from raiding the local government savings accounts.
The accounts pay for grants that fund infrastructure like road and sewer repair, Roberts said.
I think theres a very, very strong argument to be made that that ties straight into the economy and jobs, she said.
But the move would require further compromise from Democrats, who have already agreed to swallow most of the cuts to public schools that Hickenlooper proposed.
Senate Democrats in February pledged to reduce the $332 million cut by half, but on Friday Hodge said she hopes the JBC can agree on a plan to give $36 million back to schools.
Hickenloopers spokesman, Eric Brown, said impasse was too strong a word to describe the situation. The governor is meeting personally and frequently with key legislators, Brown said.
Theres been no line in the sand drawn. Were in constant communication over where are the appropriate places to balance the budget. The truth is there are no easy decisions this year, he said.
JBC Democrats and Republicans dont even agree on their chances for success, with Democrats expressing more pessimism.
My job is to produce a balanced budget. We may have to work around the JBC to get what we need, Hodge said.
Becker thinks the JBC will get the job done.
I believe this group will come to consensus at some point or another, Becker said.
Reach Joe Hanel at firstname.lastname@example.org.