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Despite Lean Fiscal Year, Colorado Legislators Gung-Ho on Cybersecurity Center

It's hard to find opponents to a job-creating program centered around national defense, education and job training.

by Megan Schrader, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) / April 14, 2016
"We also need a Cyber Institute to train public officials,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, pictured here, speaking at a 2014 Colorado Municipal League conference. David Kidd/e.Republic

(TNS) -- An $8 million earmark in Colorado's $26 billion budget has attracted almost no public discussion or scrutiny.

The vague line-item in the 581 page budget is for "Concerning Colorado and The United States (bill to be introduced)."

In a lean fiscal year, even the state's most ardent fiscal conservatives won't speak ill of the Democratic governor's set-aside for a burgeoning cybersecurity program in Colorado Springs.

In fact, the author of the yet-to-be introduced bill is Sen. Kent Lambert, a Colorado Springs Republican known for his penny-wise work on the Joint Budget Committee. Lambert said the bill will be introduced next week and will spend the money rehabilitating a donated building in Colorado Springs and launching a ramped up cybersecurtiy program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Lambert said authoring the bill and supporting the expenditure is a no-brainer.

Gov. John Hickenlooper called for the program in his state of the state address and included money for it in his initial budget proposal.

When asked how he was able to get $8 million through a budget process that seemed to leave no pot of unspent general fund dollars unturned, Hickenlooper, a successful businessman himself, channeled his inner Donald Trump.

"Over the years in the restaurant business I've just gained a certain skill in what some people would call 'The Art of the Deal,'" Hickenlooper joked. "This is an initiative I think that has a very low risk and a potentially very high reward for the entire state. The center we are talking about is indeed in Colorado Springs, one of the parts of the state that was slow to recover, really hasn't had quite the same activity and the increase in wages that we see in some parts of the state."

It certainly doesn't hurt that the Senate president and vice-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee are from Colorado Springs.

Senate President Bill Cadman said Wednesday there are no sacred cows in the budget.

"If you look at this as an investment, it's already returned well over its cost," Cadman said. "The building alone has a minimum estimated value of around $12 million. ... We can leverage our assets, and overnight grow them into something that is exponentially greater than what we started with."

It's hard to find opponents to a job-creating program centered around national defense, education and job training.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, pointed out that set-asides in the budget are not unusual. He hopes to author a bill this session that will spend $6 million of marijuana tax revenue on a substance abuse treatment program.

The key difference, however, is that marijuana revenue flows into a cash fund and is already earmarked for specific purposes.

The money for the cybersecurity project is coming from the general fund, a precious resource in a strained state budget. Off-the-record, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the lack of discussion for the expenditure and questioned why there's been so little scrutiny on the issue.

But Colorado's process is fairly transparent, and the bill spending the money will get a minimum of six hearings, two of which are open for public comment.

"It will be up or down on that bill," Lambert said. "If the legislature doesn't like that bill, we will find out. But I think there is going to be broad bipartisan support for that bill."

So why the secrecy in the title of the earmark?

Lambert said the budget was drafted the day before the governor's state of the state address.

"We didn't want to upstage the governor in making his announcement," Lambert said.

©2016 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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