Big budget gap awaits returning lawmakers
DENVER — State legislators began the 2010 session Wednesday with the traditional promises of bipartisanship, but assurances that when they don’t agree, each will be happy to rattle their political sabers.
In opening-day speeches from Republican and Democratic leaders in the Colorado House and Senate, each talked about their individual priorities for the coming 120-day session, particularly with closing a $1 billion revenue deficit.
Party leaders also touched on several other issues, including ways to help the economy recover from the current recession.
“Let’s not allow legitimate policy differences to undermine our willingness to work together on other important issues,” Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry said. “(That includes) reforming the state’s pension program, solving the higher education conundrum, rallying around constitutional reform and establishing the framework for a rainy-day fund.”
The Grand Junction Republican went on to warn lawmakers not to make things more difficult for businesses to create new jobs, such as removing long-standing, sales-tax exemptions on companies that he said would only increase their costs of doing business.
Penry, who last year withdrew his bid for the GOP nomination for governor, also pointed out that neither of the leading candidates for that job are in the Legislature. As a result, some of the traditional partisan politics that are common under the gold dome, particularly in an election year, should be minimized.
Other local lawmakers agreed, but said there is no way to completely separate the two.
“We’re hearing a spirit of collaboration and that our No. 1 priority is the citizens of this state,” said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. “We do have some key pieces of legislation that we will work together on … but this is going to be a difficult year. If we can rise above this partisanship, we can serve the state better.”
Schwartz said she feared that had Penry and Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter stayed in the race, the two might have turned this year’s session into a campaign battleground.
“I’m relieved we won’t be listening to somebody at the mic who’s running for governor,” she said. “Hopefully, it’s going to lower the volume and rhetoric on that a bit.”
Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, said the Legislature’s single most important job will be to find a way to balance the state’s budget in the face of such a large deficit, which comes on top of $2 billion already cut from the budget over the past two years.
White, a member of the Joint Budget Committee that crafts that spending plan, said legislators will have to carefully decide what measures it approves that call for new spending.
“All of those bills that will come under discussion come with a fiscal note, and we can look at what the benefits are and make our budget considerations based on that,” White said. “We’ll see what net effect that will have and how it moves the ball forward.”
In the House, Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, agreed there is too much at stake politically for the politics not to affect whatever comes out of this year’s Legislature.
“There’s other political winds blowing that have nothing to do with who’s in the (Capitol) building,” she said. “There’s the economy, for one. People are hurting.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Kathleen Curry said her concerns she would be treated poorly on opening day because of her recent decision to leave the Democratic Party to become unaffiliated turned out to be unfounded.
The Gunnison legislator said that while she got some raised eyebrows and inquiries as to her reasoning, her colleagues treated her much the same way they always have.
Curry also said she would be carrying all of the bills she had planned before her surprise defection, saying no one took her up on her offer to let other legislators carry them.
She plans to introduce a couple measures that are sure to raise even more eyebrows, including a controversial bill to allow rafters to flow through private property without a landowner’s consent.