Thursday, May 8, 2003
It's finally over.
State lawmakers are saying goodbye to their home away from home after spending four-plus months under the Capitol dome. Among them are Routt County's representatives in the Statehouse.
The 120-day session ended at midnight Wednesday. The Legislature wrapped up its work about 8:30 p.m., so the final hour came earlier than usual, Assistant House Majority Leader Al White, R-Winter Park, said.
It was something rare to smile about in a session that was far from usual.
"Of the 11 years I've been here, it was probably the strangest," Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, said.
Colorado's fiscal crunch had lawmakers scrambling to trim $892 million from the current budget and come up with almost $1 billion dollars to save in the 2003-04 fiscal year that begins July 1.
The state constitution requires the General Assembly to send Gov. Bill Owens a balanced budget.
Taylor and White admitted slashing dollars here and there wasn't a pleasant experience.
All that tireless trimming meant somebody's program got cut and somebody's source of revenue went down the tubes, White said.
Seniors lost millions of dollars in property-tax relief, mental health centers saw their funding slip and the arts were losers, too, in this year's session.
"But we got it done," Taylor said.
The waning days of the session brought a few surprises. Repub-licans suspended customary rules of procedure to shove a congressional redistricting map through the Legislature.
The last-minute move irked Democrats. White, who said he wasn't expecting the plan to surface in the final week, expects the new congressional districts will see their day in court.
In the meantime, he's crossing his fingers that consumer spending will pick up so he and his colleagues don't have to cut any more from next year's budget.
"It all depends on the economy," White said. "What we need to see is a renewed confidence in the economy."
Taylor is hopeful the $9 million for tourism marketing that lawmakers managed to hold on will reap rewards for Coloradans.
"That's something we can really hang our hats on," he said.
Pleasantries weren't always exchanged between both parties. More often than not, Republicans managed to fuel the ire of their colleagues across the aisle. Both White and Taylor described the final days as somewhat "contentious."
Democratic Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger agreed the challenge of finding money to balance the budget was overwhelming this year. But he was disappointed lawmakers dealt such a heavy blow to local government in Colorado.
The Republican Legislature, he said, focused more on the state than communities. That focus came at the expense of local entities, he said.
"They were only concerned about taking care of themselves," he said.
Legislators cut $27 million intended for the Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Program. That money was intended to help communities address energy-related impacts.
Monger wants to know when counties and municipalities might see that money again.
But there's always next year. White and Taylor cleared out their desks at the Capitol and are looking forward to meeting with constituents.
"Now the traveling begins," Taylor said.
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