The Associated Press March 23, 2010, 5:09PM ET

Colorado reviving bill to cut immigrant pensions

Colorado lawmakers are reviving a bill to cut state pensions to some legal immigrants, saying they need the money to help balance the budget.

The proposal would save the state an estimated $24 million next year but this time the budget stakes are higher. Minority Republicans are threatening to withhold support for a bigger budget balancing bill if lawmakers don't consider the cut to the old age pension fund first.

Last week, budget comittee chairman Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, asked the House to kill his pension bill out of frustration after a series of proposed changes ate away at the savings. He said Tuesday that the committee decided to reintroduce a similar bill during a meeting on Monday.

Currently, legal immigrants are eligible to collect a retirement benefit of up to $699 a month even if they're being supported by the person who promised to support them financially when they emigrated. Citizens receiving financial support from someone else aren't eligible for a pension.

Under the proposal, immigrants whose sponsors are able to support them would lose their pensions. Those whose sponsors can no longer take care of them would keep their pensions.

Budget committee member Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, said the committee would have revived the bill without the Republican pressure because of the savings to the state. However, she acknowledged that the GOP has the power to block a bill to take $43 million in tobacco tax money if lawmakers don't pass the pension bill.

In a letter to the budget committee on Monday, Republicans said lawmakers should change pension eligibility before it considers cutting the $43 million from programs such as preventing and treating breast and cervical cancer and heart and lung disease.

Lawmakers raided that fund last year to balance the budget after declaring a fiscal emergency. The budget committee wants to do that again this year but declaring an emergency requires a two-thirds vote so majority Democrats would need at least three Republicans to vote with them in order to spend the money on general government expenses rather than health care.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry said Republicans would support declaring the fiscal emergency if lawmakers pass the pension bill.

Keller said she remembers her days in the minority and doesn't blame the GOP for trying to use the leverage it has.

"I understand the politics of that. That's OK," she said.


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