Legislature had taste of medical pot, coal power

The 2010 legislative session, which ended last week, was a busy one.

Lawmakers created new regulations for medical marijuana, altered how teachers are evaluated, revamped how payday lenders operate, cut millions of dollars in state spending and suspended numerous tax credits in an effort to balance next year’s budget.

But like everything else that is the Colorado Legislature, lawmakers can’t leave the Capitol without doing some political posturing. Those in control of the Legislature bragged about how much they accomplished under trying circumstances, and those in the minority party complained about the work those in power did.

“In 2010, the Democrats have cemented their place in legislative history as the Legislature that increased taxes and fees more than in the history of this state,” said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction. “If you look back over the last two years, more than $1.4 billion in new taxes and fees have been levied in the midst of a historical recession, and made a bad economic situation worse.”

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, however, had a different view. The Longmont Democrat said lawmakers helped create jobs, passed laws to improve air quality and gave the state’s colleges and universities more autonomy in how they operate.

And Republicans had their names on those bills, too, Shaffer said.

“We had a lot of resolutions of past issues, issues that continued to be controversial one way or another,” he said. “I’m talking about payday lending ... I’m talking about higher education and teacher tenure. These are conversations that we’ve had annually down here that we decided to take on.”

Despite the rhetoric between the two parties, Shaffer said most of the session’s accomplishments were done with the aid of lawmakers from both sides.

Shaffer referred specifically to such measures as House Bill 1365 and Senate Bill 3. The former would close aging coal-fired power plants on the Front Range and convert them to burn Western Slope natural gas. The latter allows colleges to set their own fiscal policies, including raising tuition by as much as 9 percent.

Both measures were co-sponsored by Penry.

“There was very difficult work to do this year, including balancing the budget and continuing to figure out how to ... re-arrange our tax burden so it doesn’t choke off business on the one hand and yet gives us the resources we need to do what we do,” said Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.

It’s true the Legislature took about $140 million in tax credits away from businesses for three years, Morse said, but lawmakers from both sides of the aisle cut $93 million in property tax exemptions for seniors, took away $260 million from public schools, trimmed higher education’s budget by $62 million, reduced state workers’ pay by $37 million and cut $20 million each from prisons and Medicaid providers.

“The Republicans can focus on (tax credits), but the reality is we have balanced this to the very best of our ability,” Morse said. “Business is going to benefit from this as well. The state can continue to serve the business interests of this state as well as all the other interests.”


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