Legislators weigh in on mid-session accomplishments

By Marianne Goodland

As the 2010 session passes the halfway point, leaders of the House and Senate sat down with the press to grade their progress — or lack thereof.

Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, said his initial impression of the session is that it has been tough but successful. He pointed to the passage of bills such as House Bill 1001, on raising Colorado’s renewable energy standards, or job creation bills like HB 1333, which provides grants to Coloradans who want job training in wind, solar, renewable energy, and energy efficiency industries.

Carroll acknowledged during the March 12 discussion that the most angst during the session so far has been about the budget, but said the House had done “yeoman’s work” to get the budget-balancing bills passed.

House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, said that given the circumstances “frankly, we’ve done a pretty good job.” The week-long battle over repealing credits and state sales tax exemptions covers only 10 percent of the cuts needed to balance the budget, Weissmann, said, but the day before, the House had cut the pay of state employees by 2.5 percent and there was no furious debate over that. K-12 education also has been cut with little discussion by the other side, he said. “We’ve done a good job of moving it along.”

On the horizon for the rest of the session: the school finance act and the Long Appropriations Bill, which is scheduled to be introduced on March 29. The March 20 revenue forecast, which is to be announced on March 19, also is on the minds of the Democratic leadership. Weissmann said indications are that revenue projections are on target.

Legislators continue to feel the heat over the recent decision by Amazon.com to fire its Colorado affiliates, which Amazon said was the result of passage of HB 1193. Weissmann said they had negotiated in good faith with Amazon and he regarded the online retailer’s actions as a “temper tantrum. We stood with the homegrown booksellers,” Weissmann said. Democrats have enjoyed a good relationship with the business community, he explained, but “life at the Capitol is sometimes divorced from reality. The business lobby has said no matter what we do it will cost jobs,” but when asked they have never provided proof that any of that has happened, he said.

The minority opinion

Senate Republicans met with the press later the same day to review what they thought of the session.

“We’re running the risk of being the most tone-deaf Legislature in the history of the state,” said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction. Penry said the bills on repealing exemptions and credits would be the defining issue of the session. Democrats just “aren’t paying attention” to the real world, he said, adding that Republicans have been united on this issue in a way that hasn’t happened in the past.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Greg Brophy, R-Wray, also addressed the Amazon issue, noting that they had amended HB 1193 in an attempt to hold the affiliates harmless. He said he had also heard from farmers and ranchers on the state sales tax exemption repeal on pesticides — now that they’re headed to the fields to plant, they’re paying 2.9 percent more for those agricultural products, he said. The session has been about Democrats “pulling as much money as they can out of the taxpayers’ pockets,” Brophy said. He also had asked for late bill status for a bill to repeal HB 1193, the online sales tax bill, but had been told “no” very firmly.

Democrats have been “lock, stock and barrel” on the party line, with no inclination to compromise, Brophy said.

Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, told reporters that the session has been about why the state has revenue problems, from fixing revenue problems in the wrong way. “We’re doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing,” Kopp said, which he explained would be to reform state government in a fundamental way.

The Democratic leadership from the Senate discussed their mid-session report card on Monday, and Senate President Brandon Shaffer said he would give the Senate an “A” for its efforts.

Shaffer said many of the goals at the beginning of the session have been met — reform to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association through SB 1, balancing the 2009-10 budget, and “positioning” the Legislature for the long bill and the School Finance Act. “It hasn’t been easy and it hasn’t always been bipartisan,” Shaffer said, although he said the push to reform PERA was notable for the lack of acrimony in its passage. SB 1 could have had the potential to erupt into a partisan fight but that didn’t happen, Shaffer explained. On the other hand, he said, the session’s flashpoint has been the fight over the repeal of the tax exemptions and credits.

Shaffer said he plans to hold a budget “summit” or forum and invite Republicans to the table to discuss the state’s $1.3 billion deficit for 2010-11. “We need an ‘all of the above’ approach,” although he said that doesn’t mean the Senate will adopt every idea put forward by the Republicans. But all the cards have to be on the table, he said. “This is no time to play politics.”

Shaffer said the Senate Democrats are sticking to the plan they had on day one for the session, which included reforming PERA and passing the package of tax exemption and credit repeals. “None of the things we’re doing are popular,” he said. “It’s a leadership contest, not a popularity contest.”

For the second half of the session, Shaffer said he hopes it will be quieter — with the volume turned down a bit. There may be acrimony around a few bills, but he said he did not expect the same partisan fights that defined the first half of the session. The major bill of the last of the session is likely to be the bill on tuition flexibility for higher education, according to Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.

Senate Democrats also handed out a list of eight major legislative accomplishments regarding job creation, although six of the eight have not yet passed the full Legislature.

House Republicans did not hold a mid-session review.