Colorado’s 2014 legislative session is already halfway over. So far lawmakers have tackled a whole host of issues – everything from gun law repeals to wildfire and flood related measures.
By all accounts this year’s session has been much less contentious compared to the previous year. In 2013, Democrats used their majority to pass stricter gun laws, a new voting bill, and tougher renewable energy standards for electric coops.
“I’d say it’s a little quieter so far but the first half is usually a little quieter,” said Senate minority leader Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs). "Obviously calmer than last year but the numbers change makes a difference. Seventeen/Eighteen makes a difference on the floor.”
The difference Cadman refers to is the loss of two Democrats in the senate after recall elections. Republicans took their place, narrowing the majority. Despite the change, Democratic House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst says the parties in both chambers are working well together.
“The party of no has turned into the party, of let’s talk about it," said Hullinghorst. "I applaud their effort to engage in constructive dialogue.”
Republicans and Democrats are pushing a package of flood and wildfire recovery bills, measures that would give counties additional money for road repairs, and more budget flexibility to respond to natural disasters. Both parties also support a bill to try to begin restoring some of the deep budget cuts in K-12 schools.
There are fiscal realities though notes Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino.
“We have to live in the realities we live in," said Ferrandino. "If we can only afford so much, we can’t over leverage ourselves.”
The education community says the bill doesn’t do enough and comes with too many mandates. Democratic senate president Morgan Carroll says she understands their concerns.
“I think what we’re faced with is a lot of pent up frustration that they’re cumulatively probably over a billion dollars short,” said Carroll. “Patience is running out and they’d like to catch up all at once with no strings attached. “
Lawmakers say that’s not likely to happen as there are lots of pressures on the budget. The state’s quarterly revenue forecast is expected to be lower than projected. While there will be more money available for the budget, not every idea will get funding.
“There are a lot of requests for money,” said Speaker Ferrandino. “Revenue is coming up, but revenue is not coming up enough to meet everyone’s request. We’ll go back to our priorities, floods and wildfires, economic security and education.”
Several bipartisan bills are in the works to update the state’s telecom laws and create more broadband access in rural Colorado. There’s also a proposal to create an aerial firefighting fleet. Further still, Republican House Minority Leader Brian Del Grosso wants to put $100 million into the state highways.
“In the grand scheme of things it’s not going to fund our entire transportation budget but it at least starts the process of getting general fund dollars into transportation,” said Del Grosso.
Passing a balanced budget is the only thing the state legislature is constitutionally required to do each year.