Sine die!

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Republican and Democrat leaders at the General Assembly Monday discussed the 2010 legislative session, but had very different perspectives on what worked and what didn’t.

Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, listens as fellow lawmakers read a proclamation from the General Assembly declaring May 12 ‘Jack Pommer Day.’ Seven other term-limited lawmakers also had the day proclaimed as “their” day. They were “serenaded” by former Rep. Debbie Stafford, who was disguised as a singing telegram, singing “Down With Term Limits.”
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

Republicans from the House and Senate led off the day with criticisms of the so-called “Dirty Dozen” package of bills repealing sales tax exemptions and income tax credits. It was the theme of the session, according to House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker.

These bills did not need to happen, May told the press. “This is where we parted ways — the entire package was awful.” And the session finished up with tax increases that didn’t need to happen, he added — repeal of the senior property tax exemption and enterprise zone credits. The Democrats used the crisis to further their spending agenda, he said.

At the same time, a bill to close a prison got mired down in union politics, and that would save at least twice as much as the sales tax bill on Amazon.com.

The session can be summed up as an assault on Colorado jobs for the benefit of the unions and state workers, he said.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the session has resulted in more increases in taxes and fees than in any other in history. This is the end of four years of monopoly of Gov. Bill Ritter and the Democrats, Penry predicted, and the tax increases will form the backdrop for the 2010 election.

Former state Rep. Debbie Stafford, D-Aurora, “serenades” the departing House members during the last day of the 2010 session.
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

Business leaders and owners have said this has been the most hostile session toward business, according to Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument. Stephens later explained that the hostility was obvious from the attitude of Democrat legislators during committee hearings on the tax exemption bills. “People turned out in droves and were told they were not credible. It was despicable.”

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said that it was bad for business when the Legislature over-regulates, but “it’s hostile when you drive them out of the state.”

Stephens also said the 2010 General Assembly had “passed stupid things,” such as a bill on a homeowners’ association ombudsman, when the Legislature cold be doing more bills to help K-12. After the November elections, and when Republicans take back control of the state capitol, “we will have to say we can’t do everything for everyone.” Brophy added that the “correction is coming” in November.

The Republican leaders also cited HB 1408, on redistricting; and HB 1409, which would set up a new performance pay system for state employees; as bills that were unnecessary this session.

Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, reads from the tongue-in-cheek proclamation issued by the General Assembly and written by the minority communications office. Merrifield is term-limited after this session.
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

When prodded, however, the leaders said they were happy with SB 3, which gives public colleges and universities more authority on setting tuition rates; SB 1, which reformed the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, and HB 1365, which requires Xcel Energy to renovate its inefficient coal-burning plants.

Business support will return to the Republicans in November, they predicted, but they also said they hoped frustration and anger over the tax bills at the capitol did not result in passage of Amendments 60, 61 and 101 in November.

While the Republicans appeared largely frustrated over the 2010 session, Senate Democrats lauded the major bills that demonstrated bipartisan work done during the session and other major initiatives accomplished by Democrats.

Senate Democrats met Monday afternoon with the media to discuss their accomplishments and what they expect in November.

Reps. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, enjoy their tributes from the rest of the General Assembly. King and Lambert are both leaving the House and running for Senate seats.
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

Democrat accomplishments included teacher tenure (SB 191), payday lending reform (HB 1351), the creation of a child protection ombudsman (SB 171), expansion of college credit transfers (HB 1208) and changes to the state’s “direct file” statutes that allow for juveniles to be charged as adults in criminal cases (HB 1413).

Democrats have had to do the “heavy lifting” during the session, said Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont. That included balancing the 2009-10 and 2010-11 budgets, PERA reform and passing the bills on tax exemptions and the senior homestead property tax exemption.

But bipartisanship has played a major role in the session, Shaffer said, calling it the most bipartisan session he’s seen since he’s been in the Legislature. In addition to PERA reform, the bipartisan effort has included legislation on medical marijuana. “When you look at the major pieces of legislation that have passed, there have been more major bipartisan initiatives,” Shaffer said.

Term-limited House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, was the recipient of two beer steins and a 12-pack of Natural Light beer from fellow lawmakers. Weissmann has served eight years in the House and before that, a full term in the Senate.
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said the Democrats have had very difficult work to do, including balancing the budget. And the budget has been cut, Morse said, pointing to a $260 million cut to K-12 education, $62 million to higher education, a $37 million reduction in state payroll, $20 million from corrections and a $20 million reduction to Medicaid providers. Republicans can focus on the $140 million in additional state revenue from repeals of sales tax exemptions and income tax credits and say “it’s the worst ever,” Morse said. “But we’ve balanced to the best of our ability for the entire state.” Business will benefit, Morse said. “We’re trying to position higher education so it can continue to serve business interests.”

The session’s biggest disappointments, according to Shaffer and Morse, have been the failure of a major river-rafting bill (HB 1188) and the concurrent resolution to create a fiscal stability commission that would look at constitutional reform (SCR 001). Both died on Tuesday.

Like their Republican counterparts, Senate Democrat leaders said they hoped all legislators would work together for the defeat of Amendments 60, 61 and 101.

House Democrat leaders did not hold a session wrap-up, but House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, told The Colorado Statesman what was best about the 2010 session was probably also what was worst. “We had an incredibly hard session,” Weissmann said this week, with budget, marijuana, teacher tenure and river-rafting issues. Despite the intensity of the session and the time needed for the many major issues, “we managed it pretty well.”

As to the November elections for the General Assembly, Morse said there will be two very different messages: how Democrats approached the difficult mission of governing and how the other side has approached politics. And in contrast to Republican predictions that they will take back the Senate and House, Morse predicted that the Senate next year will have 22 Democrats, one more than in the body this year. “I couldn’t be prouder” of what the Democrats have accomplished this year, Morse said. “I’m set to sail into the campaign season — bring it on!”

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com