Last December, the leadership of the House and Senate pledged bipartisan cooperation for the 2011 session. With the session now halfway over, it’s clear that some legislators are learning to work across the aisle, but not all.
Four of the seven bills signed by Governor John Hickenlooper last week had primary sponsors from both parties. That’s also true for nearly two dozen non-supplemental bills headed to his desk as of March 9.
This week, leaders of the House and Senate from both parties gave their assessment on how they think the session’s gone so far. Most complained about the other side of the aisle, although Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, lauded thebipartisanship seen so far this session. March 12 is the 60th day of the 120-day session. The first 60 days have been dominated by bills dealing with partisan issues, such as pay-as-you-go, illegal immigration and repealing legislation from previous sessions.
Leadership from three of the four caucuses spoke to the press Thursday. Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R- Littleton, presented a mid-session scorecard that said Republicans had “sponsored 25 bills to reduce taxes, streamline business regulations, reduce energy costs and protect the integrity of the ballot, while Senate Democrats have continued a business-as-usual theme by killing these reform bills in committee, mostly on party-line votes.”
Those bills included efforts to overturn the 2010 tax exemption repeals, rescind the Ritter executive order establishing state employee partner- ships, repeal FASTER, and to sponsor three bills on illegal immigration.
Most of the leaders, Kopp included, praised the most bipartisan effort to date: the work of the Joint Select Committee on Redistricting. “Outside a few rays of bipartisanship, Democrats labor under the belief that you can do the same things and get different results,” he said. Kopp claimed Senate Democrats had killed every effort made by Republicans on economic recovery. Republicans intend to sponsor a bill to overturn federal health care reform, he said, that would provide the state with critical benefits if the Supreme Court finds the health care reform legislation unconsti- tutional. Democrats, on the other hand, have put forward single-payer health care, he said.
Kopp, like many other Republicans this year, praised the work of Gov. John Hickenlooper to balance the 2011-12 budget and to fully fund the 4 percent statutory reserve. “It will help on the ‘herky-jerky’ motions” that the governor and Legislature go through to balance the budget through the supple- mental process, he said.
“The governor has a solid long-term view on fixing the budget,” Kopp said.
As to the Republican bills on partisan issues that had little or no chance of passing the Senate, Kopp said he would not apologize for them. “We believe in reducing the cost, size and complexity of government,” he said. And whether Senate Republicans can work with their Democratic counterparts, Kopp said that bipartisanship takes two parties, and that he has made “genuine outreach” efforts to the Senate President.
Kopp did have a few things he could point to as successes from the Republican side: his bill on reinventing government, Senate Bill 11-041, which is awaiting action from the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council. He also lauded a bill on regulatory reform, Senate Bill 167, and the redistricting process. There’s “a lot of vested interest that it will succeed,” he said.
Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, noted Republican victories on the supplementals to balance the 2010- 11 budget, and added that Republicans want a voice in the discussions on the 2011-12 budget. But for the rest of the session, legislators will get down “to those issues on which we have common grounds. Eventually, the good stuff gets to the floor.”
Senate President, House Minority Leader denounce GOP actions
Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, did not meet with reporters Thursday, but issued a statement blasting Senate Republicans for favoring special interest tax breaks and attempting to overturn federal health care reform. “The mid-session mark reveals the stark and sobering differences between Democrats and Republicans. The Republicans’ extreme agenda would lavish almost a billion dollars of tax breaks on special interests, but deny kids the break they need to get a decent education. The Republicans are willing to cut health care for more than 100,000 Coloradans, but not to cut tax loopholes for Wall Street giants. Their extreme attack on the state’s most vulnerable citizens continues with shameful votes against essential services for Coloradans in need,” Shaffer said.
“In a spectacular display of job-killing prowess the Republicans offer Arizona-style immigration legislation in spite of evidence it savaged Arizona’s tourism industry, causing the loss of jobs and millions in revenue for the state.
“I am proud to be a Democrat, the party of every-day working Coloradans, a party that understands and acts upon a belief that we will be judged for how we provide jobs, how we educate our children and how we care for our veterans, our elderly and our disabled. Yes, the contrast is stark and it is sobering.”
House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, was joined by more than 20 fellow House Democrats when he spoke to reporters Thursday. Jobs are Democ-rats’ top priority, and House Democrats have introduced 23 bills on jobs and economic growth. Most have been killed along party-line votes in committee, he said. In contrast, and similar to Shaffer’s message, Pace said Republi- cans have introduced bills that would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars, in “arbitrary cuts to vital programs, tax credits and exemptions, and giveaways,” that he said totaled more than $600 million. Pace promised House Democrats would keep fighting for K-12 education and “balancing the budget the right way.”
On accomplishments of House Democrats, Pace pointed to restoration of the Smart Start breakfast program, which was initially voted down by Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee but restored after Democrats led strong public criticism of that action.
He also noted Democrats had gotten bills moved from the House to the Senate to help small businesses cut through red tape. “Our responsibility is to put people back to work,” he told reporters. “We’ve lived up to our promises to fight for middle class values.”
The first 60 days have been marked by sometimes loud and public battles between the two aisles in the House, rather than the bipartisanship promised by all legislative leaders prior to the session’s start. Pace attributed it to Republicans, saying they would rather play politics than work across the aisle.
For the rest of the session, Pace said House Democrats would work on protecting K-12 funding as much as possible, and is hopeful that the redistricting committee can come up with a map.
“We have sincere disagreements” with the Republicans, Pace said. “It’s okay to have disagreements. It’s why we have different parties.”
House Speaker McNulty praises bipartisanship at Capitol
In sharp contrast to the remarks of the other three leaders, McNulty lauded the bipartisanship and the work accomplished during the first 60 days.
“We recognize that there are a number of important issues that remain to be dealt with,” such as the budget, McNulty told reporters. But he said the Republicans in the House find comfort in “the working relationships that Republicans and Democrats have had at the state Capitol. We’ve had our disagreements and we’re not always on the same page, but I’m really proud of the ability of the Republicans and Democrats to work together.” McNulty more than once praised Pace for his efforts in that effort as well as the House Republican leadership. “We ought not be focused on the differences” between Republicans and Democrats, he said.
As evidence of the bipartisanship in the House, McNulty listed several Democrat-sponsored bills that have moved forward in the House. “We understand tough challenges remain and some difficult decisions remain, but I’m confident” that everyone working together will put Colorado in a better position to move out of the economic recession, he said.
McNulty acknowledged that Republican bills dealing with partisan issues have died in House committees, at the sponsors’ requests. These included repeals for FASTER, the tax exemption bills and the hospital provider fee. “We recognize that these are serious times,” and that it has caused House Republicans and Democrats to look at those issues differently — and that Republi- cans are picking their battles more carefully.
McNulty said the state’s most important economic development tool is a responsible budget. “No business will come to a state that can’t pay its bills,” he noted, and said that Hickenlooper had proposed the “most honest budget in five years.” He also praised Hicken- looper’s call for bipartisanship, saying the level of bipartisan cooperation has transcended the second floor (the General Assembly) to the first floor (the governor’s office). The governor is willing to work with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature, McNulty said, “which hasn’t been the case in the past.”
Republicans for the first time in four years will have input into the budget, McNulty said, and that will lead some Republicans, including himself, to vote for the budget for the first time. Last year, Sen. Al White, R-Hayden and a member of the budget-writing Joint Budget Committee, was the only Republican in the General Assembly to vote for the Long Appropriations Bill. The JBC representative for House Republicans, then-Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, was the first member of the JBC to ever vote against it.
“If we are able to pass a responsible budget that spends less, and doesn’t rely on one-time fixes, we will have accomplished something very good,” McNulty said.
Hickenlooper, one day after a trip to Craig that resulted in an unexpected visit to the city’s hospital for a minor head injury, said Thursday that both sides are working very hard to help business do better and find more efficient ways to deliver state services, in both legislative and non-legislative efforts.
Hickenlooper’s legislative agenda hasn’t always been apparent, based on some of the questions raised in the legislative press conferences on Thursday, but he said legislators know what his agenda is. “I have a different style. My predecessors were national leaders, but my success in life is not to browbeat people. It’s to quiet and thoughtfully listen and help them find a middle ground.”
Hickenlooper also responded to some of the criticism leveled by Democrats on the budget, especially cuts to K-12 education. “Republicans are attacking me for cutting regulation (referring to his efforts on reducing regulation for beer brewers). There’s no limit to the irony in this business.
“We made cuts of great significance in things I hold dear — public education — and to make a 9 percent cut in something you believe in is difficult,” he said.