- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

DENVER (AP) - The Democrat-controlled House approved a $25 billion budget Thursday that includes funding increases for education, transportation, and money earmarked for surplus tax refunds - a sign of the state’s continuing economic gains.

Eleven Republicans joined every Democrat voting yes to pass the budget 45-20. All the no votes were Republican.

Even though spending is increasing, some lawmakers would have liked more money going to schools and transportation to make up for cuts during the Great Recession. Budget writers, however, argued that’s not possible with the state’s constitutional spending and taxing restrictions

“This budget process has been a long one and full of difficult choices,” said Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, one of six Joint Budget Committee members. “Though areas of concern remain, our state’s economy is thriving. But our constitution limits our ability to provide the services a growing, thriving state needs.”

Like every year, most of the spending goes to schools, colleges, health care and prisons. The majority of the funds include federal money that lawmakers have little control over. Of the $25 billion, about $9.6 billion is under their control, a pot of money called the general fund that consists of tax collections. Of that, $3.5 billion general fund spending goes to schools. That’s an increase of nearly $200 million from last year.

Lawmakers are also setting aside about $128 million in new money for transportation.

There’s also $70 million in refunds required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights next year, and $117 million the following year. TABOR calls for money to be returned to taxpayer’s when the state’s revenue growth exceeds the rate of population and inflation.

The first refunds will be distributed when people file taxes next year and will average between $15 and $47 for individuals, and between $30 and $94 for joint returns, depending on income.

Republican House Leader Brian DelGrosso urged his colleagues to vote yes even though there might parts of the budget they don’t like.

“I’m pretty sure there’s stuff on this side of the aisle that you guys aren’t happy with here in this budget,” DelGrosso said, referring to Democrats. “I guarantee there’s stuff on our side of the aisle that we’re not happy with. But the reality is we did make investments into education this year. We did make investments into transportation this year. And oh, by the way, we’re also putting money aside to give back to people.”

The Republican-led Senate has already passed the budget, which takes effect July 1. Nearly every Democrat there voted against the spending plan, saying Republicans shut them out by not adopting more of their amendments.

Before sending the budget to the governor, both chambers will have another chance to vote on it. That’s because the House and Senate have to agree, or reject, changes each chamber made.

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Find Ivan Moreno on Twitter: http://twitter.com/IvanJourno

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