Term-limited House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is attempting to address conflicts in our state constitution during his last two weeks of active legislative service. If he is successful, it will cap discussions he began five years ago.
Romanoff became the House minority leader in 2003 when Sen. Doug Linkhart resigned after being elected to the Denver City Council. Jennifer Veiga left her post as House Democratic leader and replaced Linkhart. As dominoes continued to fall, Romanoff assumed Veiga’s leadership position.
Shortly after becoming Minority Leader, Romanoff worked to get people to understand the structural problems that come from having conflicting constitutional provisions. Romanoff termed the combination of the TABOR amendment, which limits state revenues and spending and requires any tax increases to be approved by voters, the Gallagher amendment, which continually makes property taxes on commercial property be higher and higher than property taxes on residential property, and Amendment 23, which mandates increases in spending on K-12 education, the “perfect storm.” He tried to get business, community and political leaders to join him to work on the problem. But, as the Democratic leader in a body that had been controlled by Republicans for almost 30 years, he wasn’t able to create the necessary critical mass.
When Democrats unexpectedly took control of the legislature in the 2004 elections, Romanoff became speaker of the House. He worked with Gov. Bill Owens, Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and other legislative leaders to craft Referendum C, which created a five-year timeout on the revenue and spending provisions of TABOR. When voters narrowly approved the measure in the fall of 2005, some of the more onerous problems of the “perfect storm” were eased for the immediate future.
With the TABOR timeout ending in 2010, a recession in the offing and Romanoff’s last legislative session ending May 7, the speaker has unveiled a proposed constitutional amendment that would repeal both the revenue and spending limitations of TABOR and the required educational spending of Amendment 23. He hopes that by including the Democratic sacred cow of education funds and the Republican holy grail of limited government, both sides may come together.
Republican Sen. Steve Johnson has joined him in the effort, and will be the Senate sponsor. To get the proposal to this fall’s ballot, Romanoff and Johnson will need to convince two-thirds of their legislative colleagues to join them. Democrats control the House 40-25 and the Senate 20-15. At least 44 representatives and 24 senators must support the initiative to send it to voters, who then need to approve the measure.
It will be an uphill battle, but the speaker is to be commended for taking on this difficult issue. If nothing else, it should create an incentive for other leaders to look for solutions.
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.