Colorado lawmakers are in the home stretch
Associated Press Writers
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER – Colorado lawmakers are in the home stretch as they head toward the end of this year’s session on Wednesday, with several major issues left on the calendar, including teacher tenure, college finance and senior tax breaks.
Republicans and Democrats say this session was about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” but they disagree on their success of tackling that issue.
Democrats say they created thousands of new jobs in renewable energy, but Republicans say consumers and businesses will have to pay more in taxes and fees.
“We made a bad economic situation worse,” said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, a Republican from Fruita who is retiring at the end of the session.
Republicans cited a number of bills they say hurt businesses this year, including new limits on enterprise zones, continuing a moratorium on the senior property tax exemption and a law enforcing tax collection for Internet sales, cited by Amazon.com as the reason for dismissing dozens of local sales associates in Colorado.
Republicans said those bills could cost Democrats their total control of the House, Senate and governor’s office in this year’s elections.
House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said bills passed by Democrats were not only bad for business, in some cases they were hostile.
“Certainly it can be summed up as an assault on Colorado jobs,” he said.
Democrats disagreed, saying their focus on building a new energy economy is creating tens of thousands of new jobs, including 23,000 in solar energy by 2020 under a bill requiring that utilities get 30 percent of the their energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said businesses are correct in complaining they’ve taken an unprecedented hit financially, including $140 million in lost tax exemptions, but so have public schools, which lost $260 million, seniors who lost a $93 million property tax exemption and higher education, cut $62 million.
“The result is, we’ve balanced this budget and we’ve taken a balanced approach,” said Morse.
He said voters would distinguish between Democrats making tough choices and Republicans playing politics with the budget. He predicted Democrats would gain seats in the Senate this fall.
Colorado Competitive Council lobbyist Travis Berry said businesses have been willing to pay their fair share, but many of them felt they were blindsided by increased fees, increased regulation, loss of tax exemptions and the legislature’s decision to take cash funds to balance the budget instead of providing services.
“The real damage that was done was the unpredictability for businesses. Businesses can cope when they know what’s happening to them. Most businesses understood we had to do something, but it didn’t have to hurt business,” Berry said.
Despite the fighting over spending and taxes, some of the session’s most important bills had bipartisan support. They included trimming pension benefits for retired state workers, changing the way teachers earn and keep tenure and requiring utilities to give priority to replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas.