Congressional lines, budget cuts to be debated in the next session |

Congressional lines, budget cuts to be debated in the next session

SUMMIT COUNTY – Water, renewable energy, wilderness protection and problems on Interstate 70 won’t be the only issues discussed at the state Legislature in the 2003 session.

The state Senate and House convene for their first session of the year Jan. 8.

Democratic Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, who represents Summit County, said she’s heard rumblings of reapportioning the U.S. Congressional districts – again.

She’s heard legislators talk about budget cuts of $580 million.

And she’s heard talk of securitizing – selling like bonds – $20 million of the state’s $100 million in tobacco settlement funds to offset budget losses.

“I don’t see many blue skies at this point,” the Jefferson County resident said. “It’ll be interesting.”

Each issue has its own ramifications.

Republicans in Colorado have the upper hand, as the party holds a majority in the House and Senate and Gov. Bill Owens is a Republican. And the new Congressional lines, approved by a court judge this summer, make District 7 one of the most competitive in the United States, Fitz-Gerald said. The new district was created after the 2000 Census.

Currently, the GOP’s Bob Beauprez is ahead of Democrat Mike Feeley by 123 votes with a mandated recount underway. Meanwhile, Beauprez is getting set up in Washington, D.C.

Republicans may try to alter the District 7 makeup.

“The court order by the judge that got us our current lines was a temporary court order,” Fitz-Gerald said. “It could stand for 10 years until the next Census, or the House and Senate could agree on different lines and let the governor decide it.”

Realigning the state’s seven congressional districts could benefit Republicans by giving them a stronger say in the new 7th district.

Budget cuts are inevitable next year, Fitz-Gerald said, but no one wants to see the axe fall in their direction. Fitz-Gerald said she believes higher education and social services will see the most cuts.

“We’re talking about cutting services people have come to expect,” she said. “We’re looking at all these cuts very carefully and seeing what we need to do down the road.”

Every cut will make next year’s budget that much smaller under Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) rules. That Constitutional amendment requires that any time a budget is cut, the following year’s budget must start at that new, lower level.

Fitz-Gerald said she’s curious about the governor’s prison budget, a budget that is increasing as everything else gets cut.

The topic of securitizing tobacco settlement funds could be a contentious issue, as well. The state received $100 million from tobacco companies, and state officials have allocated $80 million of that to programs. If the remaining $20 million is “sold,” much in the way public bonds are, the state could reap additional revenue to add to its budget.

As the new Senate minority leader, Fitz-Gerald will lead the charge as “the loyal opposition,” she said. In that position, she also will appoint Senate members to various committees.

As a senator, she plans to reintroduce legislation that would allow first-time drug offenders to receive treatment, rather than go to jail. Owens vetoed a similar bill last session, despite the fact it had support from legislators on both sides of the aisle and district attorneys throughout the state.

She also plans to reintroduce a bill she wrote during the special session that would protect firefighters’ jobs if they take time off to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency fight wildfires in other states.

“The atmosphere in special session was pretty political,” she said of this summer’s discussion of the bill. “We’ll try it again. We can’t keep asking the same volunteers, and they’re not going to keep coming if they don’t know if they’ll have a job when they get home.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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