Speaker Carroll sounds rallying call

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Lobbyists loitered in the halls under the rotunda at the state Capitol, lawmakers filtered into the House Chamber, families and friends waited in chairs on either side of the floor, and, in the gallery above, students peered over railings to watch the opening day of the 2010 session.

House Speaker Terrance Carroll calls the chamber to order to begin the 2009 legislative session.
Photo by Brad Jones/The Colorado Statesman

The glad-handing, chattering and embracing could have inspired a Norman Rockwell painting. When House Speaker Terrance Carroll powerfully pounded the gavel, the single rap sent a loud warning of the serious, critical economic business facing the legislators.

The lawmakers must tackle the problem of resolving the current fiscal year’s deficit as well as the fiscal year 2010-11 budget shortfall, which, combined, may exceed $1.5 billion. House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann said the ability to cover the shortfall will depend on state revenues this year, and he worries that they will not be enough to cover the gap.

Carroll delivered a rallying speech for bipartisan work in this legislative session — and recalled the gumption and guts of Coloradans who pulled through the boom-and-bust times, from the loss of gold and silver mines to the Great Depression to today’s recession.

“It’s only 10 years into this century, and America is already shuddering under the weight of an immense burden,” said Carroll.

“Two wars, two recessions — one nearly resulting in economic collapse — disasters both natural and manmade. If anything, history’s long march, which rarely presents time to exhale, is speeding up.

“Today, though better than yesterday, again presents this nation and this state with new challenges — challenges that require critical choices, clear leadership and the will to act.

“The choices we make today — both within this room and without — matter to Colorado families. They matter because tomorrow is not yet written.

Happy Birthday, Buffie! Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, celebrate her birthday and new position as Speaker Pro Tempore.
Photo by Brad Jones/The Colorado Statesman

“But when tomorrow is written, history’s burden will be on us to show that in this building, in this room, in this year, we are standing up for Colorado’s families. We are fighting for small businesses and we are working hard to create new jobs. We are steering the state toward recovery.

“While Colorado’s economy has been hit hard by the recent recession, we’ve shown ourselves to be resilient,” declared Carroll.

The upbeat message was applauded by Democratic and Republican legislators alike.

Carroll’s speech reiterated key words and phrases: families, small businesses, jobs and economic recovery. He also pushed for clean energy to attract businesses and create more jobs.

The House speaker declared that Colorado will blaze its own path to recovery — and not rely on the federal government.

Carroll didn’t mention that federal stimulus money has assisted the state in maintaining and creating jobs as well as educating students and retraining workers in new clean energy fields. He and all legislators worry about next year when federal dollars might not be available to Colorado.

The state budget is also leaner, Carroll said, thanks to the efforts of Gov. Bill Ritter and the Joint Budget Committee, both of which have identified budget savings, improved government efficiency and protected core services.

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, is flanked by students Maggie Kopel of Boulder High School, Nadia Sonkina of DU, Angie Neslin and Thomas Tarler, both of George Washington High School.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

“Our commitment to building a stronger Colorado requires more accountability,” said Carroll.

“But it also means we have an obligation to stand up for people. It means making sure this state is an equitable one, where all people have a fair shot and get a fair shake. That Colorado is a state where people — not special interests — have their way.

“We will not tolerate special interests trampling on the many, so the few can benefit. We won’t allow the same obstructionism, the same bickering and the same influences that corrupt Washington to corrupt Colorado,” he said.

Calling for unity across the aisle in this session, Carroll vowed, “We will not allow reckless partisan games to get in the way of your and your family’s prosperity.”

It wasn’t the first or last call for bipartisanship in Carroll’s speech.

House Minority Leader Mike May said he agreed with the call for bipartisanship — but not if it means balancing the budget through higher fees and taxes, which will place greater hardships on families and businesses.

“I’ve learned in my time here that sometimes there are no perfect options,” said May, who, like Carroll, is term limited in 2010.

“We can increase the burdens on citizens to pay for our existing level of programs, bureaucracies 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,” declared May, whose words were applauded only by his fellow Republicans.

“The bottom line is that the money the state spends is taxpayer money. Those taxpayers are the same people sitting around their kitchen tables at home trying to figure out how to make ends meet for their families.

“...Colorado is required to balance its budget. But the state also has a few more tricks up its sleeve that it can use when times get tough. But just because we have those tricks, it doesn’t mean we should use them,” said May.

Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, with his wife, Marlene, and their two sons, Wyatt, 2, and Carlo, 9 months.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

The House Minority leader launched into a series of statements opposing budget decisions made during last year’s session that passed, in part, because there was a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate.

“You don’t increase taxes during a recession. You don’t delay your obligations and leave others in a bind, such as doctors who treat the state’s most needy patients. You don’t undertake substantive prison sentence reform solely for the purpose of balancing the budget. You don’t hurt the very businesses and consumers who make the most difference in our economic recovery.

“At least, you don’t do these things without breaking a promise to Colorado,” declared May.

In this session, May said Republican legislators will support policies to encourage economic recovery and improve the job market — but those policies would neither hurt businesses nor families with greater tax burdens and fees. He called for balancing the state budget, abiding by the full intent of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, and easing the restrictions on oil and gas development to create new jobs.

“I know that there are those in the majority party who would rather ignore this perspective and dismiss Republican comments, criticisms and alternatives as nothing more than politics,” said May, who asked the Democrats to listen.

“We can bring a valuable perspective to important discussions this year. This year’s challenges need all hands on deck,” he said.

“We have challenges ahead, but they are nothing compared to what families and businesses have experienced during this historic recession,” said May.

At the close of the morning session, friends and families gathered around legislators. Assistant Minority Leader David Balmer bounded upstairs to the gallery to greet elementary, high school and college students.

Perhaps the largest family turnouts were for Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, and Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood. Last spring, DelGrosso was appointed to fill the vacancy created when Rep. Don Marostica resigned to become Ritter’s economic development director, and Tyler was appointed to replace Rep. Gwyn Green, who retired.

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, a schoolteacher, brought a group of students to observe the opening. After May’s speech, she asked the students’ opinion of the session. When a question came up about May’s speech and raising taxes, Court quickly and calmly reminded the students that, under TABOR, only the voters can approve a tax increase. One student, Nadia Sonkina, from Russia, said that she became an American citizen last week — and registered to vote as a Democrat. Court beamed with pride.

The opening session closed on a sweet note for Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo. The House speaker sent a bouquet of lilies and a huge Mylar balloon to celebrate that she had been named speaker pro tempore, and her birthday.

Now, it’s down to bare-knuckle, mind-bending work for the legislators, who face a mountain-high stack of bills to review.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com