Lawmakers fight over $1.5M: roads or new energy programs community colleges
March 31, 2008
DENVER – Senators are considering whether they should take $1.5 million the state planned to spend on road construction to provide more money for renewable energy programs at community colleges.The House voted to move the money to the community colleges in voting to approve the state’s proposed $17.6 billion budget last week. Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said Monday he will fight to keep the money in the budget as the Senate debates the budget this week.”We’ve tried to protect flagship universities, sometimes at the cost of entry level schools,” Tapia said.The road money had been set aside for a second year of construction and environmental cleanup work on Colorado 119 and Colorado 6 near Interstate 70, roads which lead to the gambling towns of Central City and Black Hawk.Rhonda Bentz, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Community College System, said the money would help schools hire people to teach students the skills they need to work in ethanol plants or to maintain and repair wind turbines used in wind farms.State colleges and universities would get $63 million more than they did last year in the proposed budget and research institutions like the University of Colorado would be able to raise their tuition up to 9.5 percent. Community colleges would only be able to raise tuition by 5.5 percent although officials aren’t sure their students could afford that big of an increase.Democratic Sen. Moe Keller, a member of the Joint Budget Committee, said other institutions also need more money, pointing out that Colorado State University’s veterinary school is $1 million in debt and in danger of closing.Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said it’s time for the state to allow school governing boards to raise tuition as much as they need to make Colorado schools competitive with schools such as Berkeley and the University of Texas and then set aside more money for financial aid.Keller opposes that.”I think we have an obligation to look out for the middle class who could be priced out,” she said.The road project, set to be finished by 2020, includes reducing five sharp curves, said Chuck Ford, a lobbyist for Black Hawk. It would also mitigate slide conditions in two spots which have had a number of slides. Extra rocks from widening the highway will be used to cap mining tailings and a ramp will also be built to allow bighorn sheep to cross the highway.