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JBC Petty School Lunch Partisanship?

11:58 AM ET, 01/19/2011
We're trying to get more information about a vote yesterday by the Joint Budget Committee--yesterday evening, we saw this Tweet from one ColoradoNewser, an emergent source of Gold Dome scuttlebutt on the Twitters:

We did some checking on this, and we were forwarded this JBC brief, containing a staff recommendation to indeed approve an expenditure of around $30,000 for school lunches:

Staff Recommendation: Staff recommends increasing the appropriation for the Start Smart Nutrition Program from the Start Smart Nutrition Program Fund by a total of $124,229, including the authority to spend $30,000 from the current year General Fund appropriation to the Fund, along with $94,229 from the balance available in the Fund (from an available fund balance of $253,547). The additional funds are intended to: (1) address a $26,019 over expenditure that occurred in FY 2009-10; and (2) eliminate the need for co-payments to be collected from children eligible for and receiving reduced price breakfasts under the federal school lunch program.

Staff Analysis: Background Information: Senate Bill 07-59 created the Start Smart Nutrition Program to eliminate the amount paid by students participating in the federal school breakfast program who are eligible for reduced-price meals ($0.30 per meal). Other objectives of the program include increasing the number of students who consume a nutritious breakfast each day, decreasing statewide health care costs by improving the health of school-age children, and lessening students' risk of obesity by providing nutritious breakfast options...

Based on continued increases in the number of students eligible for reduced price meals and participating in the school breakfast program, the costs of the program have increased every year. In FY 2010-11, the Department projects expenditures to total $768,210. Thus, the Department requires a total of $794,229 spending authority from the Start Smart Nutrition Program Fund in FY 2010-11. If this additional spending authority is not provided, the Department will need to notify school districts that state funds will fall about 16 percent short of the amount needed to subsidize reduced priced meals this school year, [Pols emphasis] and districts will need to notify families that co-payments will be required for reduced price meals for a portion of the school year (probably the last six or seven weeks of the school year).

From our read of this staff recommendation, the Start Smart Nutrition Program exceeded its spending authority by a little less than $30,000--a small fraction of its $670,000 authority--apparently due to an error, and as a result the State Controller docked the program's spending authority by the same amount for the current year. At the same time, demands on the Start Smart Nutrition Program have increased (fully expected in a recession), and between the need to cover the overexpenditure and the increased demand for the program, JBC staff recommended a total increase of just under $125,000.

Like we said a few days ago about another spiked vote in the JBC, their committee-recommended bills must pass unanimously. And as our friend ColoradoNewser reports above, this vote appears to have split down the 3-3 partisan line in the JBC: meaning it's dead there, though another committee can take it up. You can read above that the consequences of failing to approve this modest expense are quite stark: a 16% shortfall, forcing low-income families to make a co-payment on their reduced price lunches for part of the school year.

Folks, we just came through an election season where seemingly routine an innocuous votes were transformed into legislators more or less wanting to eat your children, not feed them. So our questions here would seem to be obvious: did Reps. Cheri Gerou and Jon Becker, along with Sen. Kent Lambert, just stone-cold vote against school lunches for poor kids? And if they did, was it over a technical error on the part of the program, or the fact that more poor kids need lunches?

We'd like to believe it was the former, although that still shows a certain lack of compassion. But after everything Becker and Lambert have said about their plans for "spending" bills before their committee, you can't rule out the latter.

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Colorado's most widely read and discussed political blog, Colorado Pols has become a must-read for politicos in the state since 2004. Colorado Pols attracts readers from both sides of the aisle, and its "Big Line" tracker of the state's top races has become a barometer for politicians, staffers and local media.
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