Friday, March 14, 2008

B.E.S.T. Bill Gets Preliminary OK in House

A much-anticipated bill that would dedicate a portion of the revenues generated by the state's school trust lands to pay for new and renovated public school facilities gained preliminary approval in the House Thursday.

The proposed "Building Excellent Schools Today Act," or "B.E.S.T." bill, was approved by voice vote after a parade of legislators from both parties praised it as a necessary, innovative, and financially wise way of helping impoverished school districts build and maintain needed facilities.

Only one representative, Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, spoke against the measure. He said it would reward school districts that failed to plan for the future because they preferred to spend money granting over-generous pensions to employees. Bruce also sought to amend the bill to remove its "emergency" clause, which would allow it to go into effect immediately upon receiving the governor's signature, but his motion gained no traction.

The measure would allow the state to borrow money pursuant to "certificates of public participation" and then repay the debt by means of the school trust land revenues. It would dedicate about $1 billion to school districts around the state and set up an evaluation process by which to prioritize needs.

School districts would be expected to contribute about $400 million, according to sponsor Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver.

A 2003 report by the state auditor said that Colorado had about $4.7 billion worth of backlogged public school facility upgrade and maintenance needs.

HB 1335 is sponsored by Speaker Romanoff along with Senate president Peter Groff, D-Denver, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. It arose out of a tour of the state's rural schools by Romanoff and others last year and was boosted by a proposal by state treasurer Cary Kennedy to devote trust land revenues to the state's school capital needs.