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Lawmaker defiant after dropping bill

February 19, 2009

DENVER • Having called a pair of GOP bigwigs "losers" and "has-beens" after being pressured to drop a budget bill, Republican state lawmaker Don Marostica remained defiant Thursday.

Marostica, a state representative from Loveland who sits on the powerful Joint Budget Committee, said that he was pressured by House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, to withdraw his name from a bill he is co-sponsoring that would repeal a law limiting state spending.

Marostica blamed the pressure on Independence Institute President Jon Caldara and former state treasurer Mark Hillman, and said Thursday, "When I was called into the principal's office yesterday, it was, ‘We've got some outside influences that want you to not take this through.'

"I just felt like, ‘Who's running our government here? Are we running it, or is somebody else running it?'"

House Republicans called his comments "regrettable," and May said that Marostica "needs to repair the damage with the caucus, so they have the trust to have him over there."

May said the bill, also sponsored by Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, "isn't worth a damn," and predicted that every other Republican in the state Legislature will vote against the measure.

House GOP caucus chairwoman Amy Stephens of Monument scoffed at the bipartisan label Democrats tried to affix to the bill because they had Marostica's support, and said, "It's really not a bipartisan effort. It's really a rogue effort."

Caldara laughed it the dispute.

"I'm a never-was. Someday I hope to be a has-been," he joked.

The anti-tax crusader said he had spoken to May about his concerns, but he's not trying to put pressure on anybody.

The bill introduced Thursday was sparked by state Supreme Court ruling last year and a subsequent legal opinion that the cap on state spending, officially known as the Arveschoug-Bird, could be repealed by the Legislature instead of requiring a vote of the people. Arveschoug-Bird only allows the state to spend the same amount it doled out the previous year, plus 6 percent.

The problem, said Marostica, is that 6 percent limit doesn't allow the state to recover from recessions, such as the one the country is in. If the budget is cut by, say, 10 percent or 15 percent, the Legislature is still only permitted to restore 6 percent of the cuts each year. That has resulted in a continuous ratcheting-down of the state budget, essentially a negative growth, which costs departments such as higher education.

Also, the Legislature is currently required to shovel any extra income above the 6 percent limit into capital construction and transportation funding, which means that in times of economic crisis the state doesn't have the flexibility to switch their funding streams around.

"Colorado is handcuffed. Getting rid of this 6 percent provision is the key," Marostica said.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, countered that the bill would prove to be the "largest transportation funding cut in the history of Colorado," since it would give the Legislature power to raid transportation funds that are currently protected.



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