DENVER - Colorado is preparing to expand health assistance for low-income adults, and Democratic lawmakers indicated Thursday that they're not going to entertain GOP attempts to put curbs on that expansion.
The Senate Education Committee rejected a GOP proposal to make K-12 education a higher priority than looming Medicaid expansion. The 5-4 party-line vote was the first indication that state lawmakers are going along with Gov. John Hickenlooper's decision to expand Medicaid as part of the federal health care law.
In some states, lawmakers have balked or questioned the decision on Medicaid expansion. Though states have the option of expanding Medicaid under the law, and federal authorities insist states can back out any time if finances require, many Republicans have raised questions about whether states can afford to put more people on public health assistance.
Colorado's bill Thursday came from Republican Sen. David Balmer of Centennial. He wanted lawmakers to commit to making K-12 education funding a higher priority than the health care change. He brought with him teachers who talked about years of budget cuts. They pleaded with lawmakers to protect them from future budget cuts.
"It protects the pieces that are left of what we all agree is the highest priority of this state," said Sheryl Frye, who teaches 4th grade in the suburban Denver Cherry Creek school district.
Democrats on the committee said Balmer's proposal unfairly suggested that lawmakers would have to choose between education or health care for the needy. Some Democrats on the panel joked that Balmer should instead have proposed a tax hike to pay for both.
After the joking, Democrats accused the Republican of choosing a sympathetic cause - education funding - to erect limits of future legislators facing tight budgets. Democrats said they don't need reminding that education funding is a top priority.
"Some of my most painful days down here have been when we cut" education, said Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora.