The Colorado General Assembly passed the halfway mark of this year’s 120-session last weekend. This year’s session has been marked by big reports, the arrival of TABOR author Douglas Bruce and a workmanlike tone. The biggest issues are likely still to come.
Heading into the session, people agreed that the biggest issues would likely revolve around funding for transportation, health care and higher education. Long-term study groups on transportation and health care produced reports with price tags so big that discussion immediately shifted from total needs to possible options. Gov. Bill Ritter floated the option of raising vehicle registration fees by an average of $100 per vehicle, but public reaction was negative enough that the idea has been abandoned.
Bruce was appointed by a House vacancy committee to fill the seat of Bill Cadman, who moved to the Senate upon the resignation of Sen. Ron May. Bruce, who has been a controversial figure as author of the TABOR amendment and an El Paso County commissioner, made immediate waves by refusing to be sworn in in time to begin the session, in order to gain the opportunity to run for four two-year terms. He votes against all bills that will go into effect without providing an opportunity for voters to overturn them, and offers amendments to every bill that doesn’t allow such an opportunity. He has told his colleagues resolutions are a waste of time, which angered both his constituents and other legislators on military appreciation day. After his well-publicized kick of a Rocky Mountain News photographer on his first day, a song called “And Then He Kicked Me” circulated throughout the Capitol. He now has a Republican challenger in his quest to be elected to the seat and may very well serve just one year.
The biggest issues still remain. Ritter and legislative leaders must decide by the end of the month whether they will attempt to refer a tax increase to voters. If something goes forward, it most likely will involve severance taxes. Health care proposals are still to be introduced. House Majority Leader Alice Madden is working on a bill to address improprieties in the conservation easement program, and there is likely to be a lively discussion on how well Colorado’s shift from no-fault to a tort-based system of auto insurance is working.
The constitution requires adjournment by May 7, but look for things to wrap up a couple days early as has happened in recent years.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.