A state Senate committee accepted a $78,300 check from a special-interest group today and then approved a public school voucher program the group supports, saying the money was welcome given the state's financial crisis.
"If everyone would show up with a check, that would make this job so much easier," said state Sen. Ron Teck, a Republican from Grand Junction.
Lawmakers said they knew of no precedent for getting cash for a project, though they have approved legislation that allows programs only if they were financed through gifts and donations. Lawmakers said they would return the check if the bill is killed.
Bill Wyatt, spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said he has not seen other legislatures asking for money.
Political observers said the committee's action sets a bad precedent.
"This is government by tin cup. That isn't how it should be done. If you can pay, you can get your policy implemented," Colorado Common Cause director Pete Maysmith said.
Colorado is facing its worst budget crisis in nearly 60 years. Lawmakers are trying to cut about $1 billion from the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The check was issued by the Colorado Alliance for Reform in Education, a nonprofit group that backs school vouchers. If the program is finalized, the money will be used to pay a state-employed administrator. The group has agreed to donate more money next year.
The committee voted 6 to 4 to approve a bill to create a pilot program that would provide scholarships for eligible students to attend private or religious schools.