Death, taxes wrap up Colorado legislative session | VailDaily.com

Death, taxes wrap up Colorado legislative session

COLLEEN SLEVIN
Associated Press Writers

DENVER, Colorado ” Lawmakers were expected to conclude their 120-day 2009 legislative session on Wednesday with last-minute battles over death and taxes.

They said their biggest accomplishment was balancing the state budget in one of the worst economic downturns in decades without cutting funding for the most vulnerable, including the developmentally disabled and children in foster care.

But Republicans said majority Democrats didn’t make deep enough cuts and instead relied too much on transferring money around and passing millions in new fees and taxes during the recession. The largest fee was a new vehicle registration fee that will ultimately raise $250 million a year to pay for repairs to bridges and highways, costing the average car owner an additional $41 a year.

Lawmakers said they had few choices this year and they imposed wide-ranging cuts along with the fees, and furlough days for state employees.

Facing a $1.4 billion shortfall because of the recession, Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, said Republicans would have done much of the same.

“They know it and we know it. The luxury of being in the minority at a time like this is you don’t have to be serious,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, acknowledged that previous Republican lawmakers did make similar decisions but he said they were wrong. He thinks additional cuts will be needed later if economic forecasts show the recession worsening.

“This budget will be balanced for a matter of days, not much longer,” he said.

Meanwhile, the fight over a proposal to abolish the death penalty in Colorado went down to the wire.

The House passed a bill to end the death penalty and use the savings from its elimination to fund statewide cold case investigations. But the Senate scrapped the death penalty ban and instead backed new fees to fund local probes.

A committee appointed to work out the differences voted Wednesday to put the death penalty ban back in the bill. It also backed funding for statewide and local cold case investigations with the savings.

Both houses were scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday afternoon before adjourning this year’s regular session.

On the final day, lawmakers also approved and sent to the governor a measure (House Bill 1366) getting rid of a deduction for capital gains earned on Colorado assets. The measure would still allow people to deduct $100,000 in capital gains earned in any state, a move aimed at protecting small businesses. It’s expected to bring in an extra $7.1 million in the first year.

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, called the deduction an illegal millionaire’s tax break and said a similar deduction in North Carolina was declared unconstitutional in 1996. He said lawmakers are only changing it now because of a recent Colorado Supreme Court ruling that said lawmakers could change existing tax credits. He predicted other tax credits would be rescinded as lawmakers look for ways to avoid cutting state services, including higher education.

But Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said he doubted the money would be used to balance the budget. He pointed out that nearly $300,000 of it was already spent on bills being passed this year.

House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, opposed the change, saying it made no sense allowing people to invest in other states if the purpose was to help the Colorado economy.

“We’ve taken an ‘invest in Colorado’ bill and turned it on its head,” May said.