Colorado legislature open for business in Denver
Rocky Mountain News
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado “-The curtain has just gone up on the Colorado legislature’s 2009 session in Denver with 100 lawmakers and one governor determined to repair Colorado’s crumbling highways and shore up the state’s ailing economy.
But how they’ll go about doing it is another matter.
The legislature’s top Republican leaders Tuesday proposed mortgaging the state’s assets, such as buildings, to secure immediate cash to fix roads and bridges, thus creating or saving existing jobs.
“We cannot afford to wait,” said Sen. Josh Penry, of Grand Junction, the new Senate minority leader, who was flanked by his counterpart in the House, Rep. Mike May, of Parker.
Ritter dislikes plan
Gov. Bill Ritter and other Democrats said they want to work with Republicans, but rejected the idea of leveraging state buildings because the plan does not produce the revenue needed to pay back the loans.
“This would be a public version of sub-prime lending,” the governor said.
Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, pointed out that the T-REX project voters approved in 1999 is being paid from current and future federal and transportation funds, but no new money.
“This is a doubling down on a credit card strategy we can’t afford,” Romer said. “This is just craziness.”
Colorado has pressing transportation needs, but dwindling transportation dollars.
Ritter is moving forward with an omnibus plan that would involve some sort of fee increase to generate money to go especially toward the 126 structurally deficient bridges in the state. The specifics of those fees are still being discussed, as Ritter is hoping to get bipartisan support on the measure.
But Republicans are worried about increasing fees in the current economic climate.
“We should explore all of our other options before we reach into the pockets of Colorado citizens who are already feeling the pinch of this economy,” May said.
Lawmakers have promised to work together to get a transportation plan in place as soon as possible, while at the same time dealing with a possible $600 million shortfall for the current budget year, which ends June 30.
Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, told the House GOP caucus Tuesday he fears that the $600 million projection is too low. He advised any lawmaker who has introduced a bill with a fiscal note, which indicates how much money it will cost to implement, to pull the bill because there’s no money.
Focus on transportation
Despite the budget crunch, lawmakers are focused on helping transportation.
“It makes zero sense that transportation, our roads and bridges, are a second-class priority in our budget,” Penry said.
Ritter told a crowd of more than 150 people at a City Club of Denver luncheon Tuesday that he wants to incorporate climate and land-use planning into transportation planning. He did not give details on how he would fuse the different types of planning, but said he wants to reward development that is proposed with transit in mind rather than drawn up in a way that will make residents drive an increasing number of miles to get to stores or work.
bartels@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5327
Starts: 10 a.m. today
Ends: The session must be over by midnight May 6, but lawmakers can end earlier.
Senate breakdown: 21 Democrats, 14 Republicans
House breakdown: 38 Democrats, 27 Republicans
Of note: Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter will deliver his State of the State address at 11 a.m. Thursday.
The Capitol online
State Web site: leg.state.co.us. The site includes informations on bills, how to contact lawmakers and has an audio link to listen to committees or floor action.
Address: 200 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO, 80203.
House only: Live Web-streaming at coloradochannel.net or live TV at Comcast Channel 165
Live legislative blog