Colorado statehouse action - or lack of - likely to be fodder for campaign season

May 10, 2014 Updated: May 10, 2014 at 9:45 pm
photo - Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, left, R-Colorado Springs, talks with then-Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, in this 2012 file photo. The 2014 General Assembly was marked by cooperation between the two parties.  (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, left, R-Colorado Springs, talks with then-Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, in this 2012 file photo. The 2014 General Assembly was marked by cooperation between the two parties. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski) 

DENVER - It lingered in the backs of lawmaker's minds all session: Anything and everything in the 2014 General Assembly will be used as fodder in campaigns for the November elections.

Tensions were high under the Gold Dome in Denver in January. Recall elections in the fall had unseated two Democrats and forced a third to resign.

The GOP accused Democrats of refusing to listen to constituents in 2013 and were riding high following a slew of gun control measures that roused Second Amendment rights advocates across the state and nation.

But compared to the 2013 session, which was full of late-night debates and heated arguments, 2014 was tame.

"I think it was a lot smoother. Obviously a little less contentious," Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said. "We ran a few opportunities for Dems to unwind what we think were legislative mistakes and of course those didn't fare well. But we were able to move past that. I think you saw a really good bipartisan group working on things that matter to Colorado."

So what will the narrative be in the 2014 elections for 14 contested state Senate seats, 52 contested state House seats and the governor's race?

For Democrats it's going to be about touting an almost $500 million increase in K-12 education funding, $100 million set aside for higher education that's tied to a 6 percent cap on tuition increases, millions for affordable housing and child care programs and a tax credit to reimburse small businesses for business personal property taxes.

All of those things were made possible this session by a growing economy in Colorado and a state budget that was flush with enough cash to grow reserves to 6.5 percent and pour $78 million into a previously empty emergency reserve known as the Controlled Maintenance Trust Fund.

"It really showed the best of the legislature," House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said. "You look at the fire and floods issues, you look at education, you look at economic issues, they were all done together with Democrats and Republicans, at the table, coming up with the right policy."

For Republicans it will be painting those successes in a different light, while touting major Republican victories, such as a $20 million aerial firefighting fleet.

"It seemed like every other bill on the general orders calendar had something about a new program, an increased program, or another pilot program," Cadman said, adding he doesn't think the public wants more government.

House Republican Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, said many of the pro-business plans that Democrats are praising themselves for have been perennial Republican ideas.

DelGrosso said he laughed when a reporter called and asked him if he would support a tax break for small businesses on businesses personal property taxes.

"Are you asking me if we're going to support a bill that has been basically a Republican idea every year since I've been here?" DelGrosso said he asked the reporter. "We've recognized that this is a very onerous tax on the businesses and we've run anywhere from 2 to 5 bills per year . and the Democrats have basically killed most of those year after year, after year, and now all of a sudden in an election year, Democrats suddenly carry a business personal property tax bill."

House Bill 1279 will cost the state about $5.5 million a year for five years as small businesses are able to get tax credits - a dollar-for-dollar rebate - for most of the taxes they pay for personal property such as equipment and tools in a construction company.

Ferrandino said Republicans need to remember their history. Democrats have brought business personal property tax bills for years too, including the first reduction in the tax, which came from a Democrat.

"The way they have tried to do it in the past is to just get rid of it," Ferrandino said. "That just won't work because it devastates local communities and you have to back-fill that amount of money."

Regardless of what the narrative will be this fall, it's certain to be loud in southern Colorado.

Republicans are looking to take back the Senate, where they are only one seat behind Democrats. A key part of that plan is holding onto two seats that were won during recall elections in September - Senate District 11 in central Colorado Springs and Senate District 3 in Pueblo.

Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, will face challenger and former Rep. Michael Merrifield, a Democrat who served in the House from 2003 to 2010.

And Sen. George Rivera, R-Pueblo, will face Rep. Leroy Garcia, who has served two years in the House and is leaving to challenge Rivera for the seat.

If Republicans can hold those two seats they hope to pick up another one from two tough districts in Jefferson County.

In the House it would be quite the uphill climb for the GOP, where they would need to pick up five seats to be the majority.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said he thought the session has gone well, and included many of the things he requested in his opening day remarks - millions invested in IT for the Department of Motor Vehicles to reduce wait times, telecommunications reforms to help broadband internet reach rural areas, and increase penalties for infractions by oil and gas operators.

So far the governor has vetoed two bills, and he has a stack left to consider following the end of session on Wednesday. He will face the winner of a four-way Republican primary in June. While Hickenlooper will try to keep the conversation about the economy and how well Colorado has recovered from the great recession under his watch, Republicans are likely to draw on the 2013 legislative session, going after the gun bills and increased renewable energy standards on the state's electric cooperatives serving mostly rural areas.


Contact Megan Schrader


Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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