Legislators disappointed with session | SummitDaily.com

Legislators disappointed with session

DENVER – Summit County’s elected state officials say there were few bright spots in this year’s legislative session, which ended a week ago.

“I can’t point to a lot of happy moments,” said state Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden. “The Republicans had a resoundingly good session.”

Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville, said it was a “feisty, divisive session” that yielded a mixed bag of results.

Miller said his biggest disappointments were the budget cuts and the lack of any definitive water legislation.

“We went into it trying to find $850 million for the current budget and come up with $900 million more for next year,” he said. “It was the first time in my seven years I’ve voted against a budget. And it has not been solved yet.”

The Republican-dominated Legislature approved a budget that predicts 6 percent growth in state revenue, which Miller and Fitz-Gerald believe is unattainable.

“We did a lot of things that are unconventional for a state government,” Miller said. “We balanced the budget on the backs of local government, we cut funding for jails, libraries and the arts, we used severance tax money set aside for local government to subsidize the general fund. We did a lot of things just to keep the state government at the same level.”

Another major issue facing the state is the drought. But its importance in the Legislature seemed to fade as the session wound down and snow blanketed parts of the state into May. The only drought-related piece of legislation politicians approved is a $2 billion bill that will fund three water projects – none of which has been identified. One of the projects must be under way by 2005.

Fitz-Gerald said a number of small losses for the Democrats ended up making the session a disappointment.

She cited a bill that prevents homeowners from recouping the value of their homes if they have construction flaws, another that prevents consumers from suing for damages incurred by defective products and an auto insurance bill that reverts Colorado’s no-fault system to a system in which people sue to determine fault – but the bill doesn’t include language that would control insurance costs for consumers.

Fitz-Gerald isn’t pleased with a school voucher bill that allows students in failing schools to move to other districts. Nor does she approve of a health insurance bill that allows insurance companies to increase premiums for people with chronic illnesses.

Fitz-Gerald and Miller both are worried about the potential ramifications of a congressional redistricting bill Republicans approved in the last three days of the session. The issue likely will wind up in court, and if the new district boundaries stand, the state will have to hold new elections. Both the litigation and elections would be expensive.

“This is not a year the state can afford to go to court,” Fitz-Gerald said. “But maybe it’s the only way we an find out what people knew, when they knew it, whose plan this is, why no amendments were allowed to this plan, why discussion was held in secrecy, why there was no public input. I think there were numerous violations all along the way. It’s hard to believe all 18 Republicans in the Senate and 37 Republicans in the House all love a plan in three days without having a godfather in the White House.”

Miller said he feels the Legislature – not the courts – is responsible for drawing congressional district lines, but he has a gut feeling the new boundaries will stand up in court.

He said he was pleased the Legislature was able to protect $9 million for tourism but disappointed politicians eliminated tax exemptions for seniors.

Neither Fitz-Gerald nor Miller is sure if the Legislature will have to reconvene in a special session this summer, but if it does, it likely will be to address the budget, particularly if revenue doesn’t come in as hoped.

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

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