Saturday, May 8, 2004
State Sen. Jack Taylor walked out of the state Capitol late Tuesday night with his head hanging low.
The second session of the state's 64th General Assembly was coming to a close, and any hope of fixing the fiscal mess created by two conflicting constitutional amendments was gone.
"We came so close," the Steamboat Springs Republican said. "We had it in our grasp, and the wheels fell off. That's probably the lowest I've been in the 12 years I've been down there."
The failure of lawmakers to compromise on a ballot issue that would relax the budget restraints imposed by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, and Amendment 23 could mean significant cuts to the state budget next year -- to the tune of $250 million.
Amendment 23, approved by voters in 2000, mandates an annual increase in K-12 education spending. TABOR, approved by voters in 1992, limits the amount of revenue the state can collect and spend. The first mandates spending while the second restricts it, creating a nearly unmanageable budgetary situation.
Nearly one-third of the $14.2 billion state budget approved by lawmakers this session went to K-12 education, so by the time the state's three or four other major departments and programs are funded, there's little left for everything else, said Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park.
"We find ourselves having to rob all the other departments to pay for (a few)," White said.
As of midday Tuesday, Taylor was optimistic that a proposal to change the conflicting amendments would gain enough support to pass through the Senate and eventually on to voters this fall.
"The whole goal was to try to get some compromise resolution on the ballot instead of a voter initiative," Taylor said. "We fell short."
Resolving the issue was a legislative priority when the session opened in January, and now there's talk of Gov. Bill Owens calling a special session specifically to address the matter. But a special session won't be necessary if Owens determines that lawmakers won't compromise on specific points, Taylor said.
Taylor and White are concerned that any of a number of voter initiatives seeking to address the TABOR/Amendment 23 dilemma could do more harm than good.
"Frankly, that's how we got to where we are," White said. "That's where we're headed again. I'd rather see this situation addressed by a large number of representatives from across the state."
'We had a good year'
But the five-month legislative session wasn't all a disappointment, Northwest Colorado's two representatives said this week.
Many lawmakers began the year wondering if anything could be accomplished after the fight over congressional redistricting that boiled over last year.
"In reality, the budget situation was so all-consuming that people forgot about their differences," White said. "From that standpoint, it was a successful session."
White and Taylor were the co-sponsors of a bill that will generate $3.4 million to the advertising budget of the Colorado Tourism Office. Ten percent of the revenue will go to the state fair. The bill is a start, but not nearly enough, Taylor said.
"Three-point-four million is about one-eighth of what we need," he said. "I'll continue to fight to find an adequate funding source for the promotion of tourism."
White said he plans to pass legislation next session that will raise between $18 million and $20 million each year for tourism promotion.
Lowering the drunken-driving blood-alcohol threshold from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent, spending $4.4 billion on education, revising the Ski Safety Act and the state's certified capital company, or CAPCO program, also were positive steps made during the session, Taylor said.
The 12-year senator was pleased with the approval of his legislation making the State Board of Stock Inspection and the State Fair enterprises capable of receiving and spending contributions outside of state funds.
Taylor and White were instrumental in fighting against a school finance bill provision that would have outlawed the city of Steamboat's half-cent sales tax for education. The original bill could have cost the Steamboat Springs School District and other beneficiaries of the tax up to $2 million each year.
White battled House Majority Leader Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, over the bill and eventually won the support of most of his colleagues.
"I think between the two of us we had a good year," Taylor said.
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