Colo. Lawmakers To Resume Work on School-Finance Issue

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The Colorado legislature is scheduled to reconvene its special session next week after lawmakers from the House and Senate failed to come to terms on a school-finance measure earlier this month and decided to call a recess.

Legislators could come back for only one day if a conference committee is able to agree on a compromise finance measure.

Even so, observers of the special session that began on Sept. 10 and was recessed on Oct. 4 say that, at best, only a stopgap education-funding measure will be passed. The legislature is putting off hard decisions about whether to provide full funding called for in the state's 1988 school-finance law, critics contend.

Both Gov. Roy Romer, a Democrat, and a coalition of education organizations and parents' groups argue that a tax increase will be needed to fully implement the finance law.

But the Republican-majority legislature, which faces the prospect of a tax-limitation ballot initiative in the November 1992 elections, is determined to avoid a tax increase, analysts say. Because of increases in student enrollment and a decline in property-tax revenues, among other factors, Colorado schools face a budget shortfall for the 1992-93 fiscal year that is estimated at $284 million.

Finance Law's Repeal Proposed

The special session of the legislature had been considering any number of measures to deal with the deficit, most of which have been viewed as short-term solutions.

In the latest round, the House even voted to repeal the 1988 finance law, which sought to reduce disparities in school funding through the use of a novel and complex funding formula.

Proponents of repeal argued that such a step would require lawmakers to reconsider the school-finance system in the 1992 legislative session, while also eliminating the expectations for higher funding created by the 1988 measure.

"The honest approach is not to promise what we can't deliver," Representative Dan Williams, a Republican, told his colleagues in proposing repeal.

But Governor Romer and members of the Senate quickly indicated that they would not go along with a repeal of the finance law.

Instead, the conference panel began work on Oct. 4 on reconciling differences between stopgap measures passed by the House and Senate.

The two measures differ over such questions as inflation factors and the length of the transitional period needed to bring the school budget year in line with the state fiscal year.

"It is so complicated, they could not even explain to each other what they were doing," said a spokesman for the Colorado Education Association, Deborah Fallin, who observed the conference committee's session.

"The House Republican Caucus people were just yelling at each other," she added. "The leadership just said, 'Co home.'"

Ms. Fallin said that lobbyists for education groups plan to push for the best-possible stopgap measure to be adopted by the special session, and then to try again in the regular session next year to persuade lawmakers to raise taxes.

Vol. 11, Issue 07, Page 16

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