Colorado’s legislature reconvened today amidst soaring rhetoric and, for the moment anyway, promises of bipartisan cooperation and fidelity to the public interest.
The second general session of the 67th general assembly was gaveled to order by speaker Terrance Carroll of Denver amidst a billion dollar-plus budget shortfall, a lingering recession and the launch of an election year.
“We will not tolerate special interests trampling on the many so the few can benefit,” Carroll said in his opening remarks. “We won’t allow the same obstructionism, the same influences that corrupt Washington to corrupt Colorado. And we will not allow reckless partisan games to get in the way of you and your family’s prosperity.”
Carroll said that the Democratic-led legislature would seek to increase the amount of renewable energy that must be produced by the state’s electric utilities and aggressively seek grant funding from the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” education reform program.
He also promised to make “tough choices” necessary to close Colorado’s $1.2 billion budget shortfall.
“This session, we will call on government agencies to be more accountable, to come up with clear goals for their programs, and plans for executing those goals,” Carroll said. “And we’ll hold their feet to the fire through performance audits.”
House majority leader Paul Weissman, D-Louisville, confirmed that the majority party will consider elimination and consolidation of state agencies and programs.
"We're open to any ideas," Weissman said. "There are some that are trickier than others."
He also expressed interest in assigning the lieutenant governor specific job duties in order to save taxpayer money.
Republican minority leader Mike May of Parker said his party would fight against any tax or fee increases and defend the state constitutional amendment that limits government revenues.
“This year, we have two imperfect choices,” May said. “We can increase the burdens on citizens to pay for our existing level of programs, bureaucracy and services, or we can make deep budget cuts and live within our means. My vote, as I’m sure you could have guessed, will be for living within our means.”
He urged the gathered legislators to consider that Republicans would be helpful in resolving the state’s budget crisis.
“We can bring a valuable perspective to important discussions this year,” May said.
Rep. Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said she doubts the Democratic majority at the Capitol would be seeking to raise taxes or fees in any event.
“Because of the way our government is set up we can’t actually raise taxes without approval from the voters,” McFadyen said. “I don’t foresee a lot of bills with fee increases in them anyway.”
Weissman said the legislature would consider eliminating tax exemptions.
He specifically pointed to enterprise zone tax credits still applicable to Denver's LoDo area and the area around World Arena in Colorado Springs.
May also urged a reconsideration of regulations aimed at reducing the air and water pollution and wildlife impacts of oil and gas drilling, arguing that they have needlessly cost the state jobs.
The state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission recently reported that Colorado issued the most oil and gas drilling permits in the nation last year.
Senate leaders echoed warnings that the state faces continued budget difficulties and reiterated the legislature's determination to resolve them.
“We face no easy task,” the chamber’s president, Brandon Shaffer of Longmont, said. “We expect no easy solutions. Our problems will not be solved by slogans, but with hard work and sacrifice.”
Sen. John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs and the Senate majority leader, said his party would also focus on rescuing the state’s public employee retirement system.
Shaffer and minority leader Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said last week that they have agreed on the terms of a bill to prevent PERA from becoming insolvent.
Policy-oriented speeches were not the only order of the day.
Rep. Dennis Apuan, D-Colorado Springs, paid homage to 39 American soldiers posted at Fort Carson who were killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last half of 2009.
Another, Republican Cindy Acree of Aurora, took the microphone to thank colleagues in both parties for their help in the aftermath of her husband’s death during the summer.
Two new representatives, Democrat Max Tyler of Golden and Republican Brian DelGrosso of Loveland replaced veteran legislators Gwyn Green and Don Marostica this session, while new senators include Democrats Bruce Whitehead of Hesperus and Mike Johnston and Pat Steadman of Denver.