Western Slope Republicans frustrated after 2009 Legislature

The 2009 legislative session produced new fees, eliminated some sources of revenue and provided few long-term budget solutions, Western Slope legislators said after adjournment Wednesday.

The Legislature increased fees for dairy farmers and processors, created a provider fee for hospitals, raised the price of marriage and divorce filings and increased motor vehicle registration prices. The registration bill in particular irked freshman Republican Rep. Laura Bradford of Collbran.

“When people start going to get their tags, there are going to be some wide eyes,” Bradford said.

The fee increase for vehicle registration will fund transportation, which took a hit this year with the passage of a bill that eliminates a requirement for the state to transfer general fund surpluses to the highway-users tax fund.

“The money that ordinarily would go into transportation won’t necessarily be there. Now it will go to whoever screams the loudest for that money,” said Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs.

Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said transportation didn’t get nearly as much attention as promised in January.

“At the beginning of this session, (Gov.) Bill Ritter said transportation was job one. But they took away funding for transportation, and it became job none,” King said.

A few new laws will take away tax savers, such as the sales-and-use tax exemption for cigarettes and, for 2010, a property-tax exemption for seniors who have lived in their homes for more than a decade.

The Legislature also approved two new income tax exemptions and extended a handful of grant programs.

Budget cuts were made in numerous departments, including education, public safety, agriculture, higher education, heath care and the Department of Corrections.

When it comes to the state’s fiscal report card, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the Legislature had “a very bad one.”

“About a billion dollars of taxes and fees were enacted. In a time when people are struggling to get by, this Legislature substantially increased (the struggle),” Penry said.

Given that state revenue forecasts caused the Legislature to identify a number of ways to cut costs or raise money, Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, felt the session went well.

“I think the standout accomplishment for us this year was to balance the budget. Even though there’s some room for discussion on how we balanced it, it was an accomplishment,” Curry said.

Balancing the budget next year could be more difficult, warned Sen. Al White, R-Hayden.

“Everything we were able to forestall this year, we’ll have to do next year,” he said.


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