Colorado bill hits lawmakers if budget isn’t passed |

Colorado bill hits lawmakers if budget isn’t passed

Ivan Moreno
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2010 file photo, Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, talks about the upcoming legislative session during an interview at the Capitol in Denver. Shaffer is planning to introduce a bill Jan. 11 that would withhold lawmakers' pay and benefits if they don't pass a budget bill before the session ends. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER – Colorado’s top Senate Democrat wants state lawmakers to go without pay and benefits if they can’t agree on a budget, saying his proposal addresses a public perception that legislators bicker too much.

But opponents say political cooperation hasn’t been a problem in the past are accusing Senate President Brandon Shaffer of pushing a gimmick.

Shaffer, of Longmont, said he’ll sponsor legislation Wednesday to penalize lawmakers’ pay and benefits if they force a special session by failing to pass a budget for state government and schools before they adjourn.

Such a scenario has not happened in recent memory, but Shaffer said his goal is to have a safety net in place and encourage lawmakers to cooperate.

“If we fail to do our job, I think it’s reasonable to ask legislators to forgo their pay until we get that principal job accomplished,” Shaffer said. He said he wants to make sure “that we have every incentive in place for legislators to collaborate and compromise to get things done.”

Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty said lawmakers have shown they can work together.

“We’ve shown a strong bipartisan spirit, particularly on the budget recently and we look forward to continuing that. I have no time or interest in gimmicks, and I view this as just another gimmick,” he said.

The vast majority of lawmakers voted in favor of last year’s budget, but only after negotiations dragged on for weeks longer than usual, the sort of squabbling Shaffer says prompted his bill.

But Shaffer’s proposals this year will likely be viewed with skepticism because he’s running for Congress.

“I can’t control what other people might say about something like this,” Shaffer said.

A few other states have sought to put mechanisms in place to incentivize lawmakers to pass budgets in a timely manner. In Washington state, lawmakers can be charged with criminal misdemeanor if they don’t pass a budget 30 days before the start of a new biennium, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That provision has not been used, NCSL said.

New York lawmakers can also have their pay suspended if budget is overdue, and California voters approved a 2010 ballot measure that also withholds lawmakers’ pay if they don’t pass a budget by June 15, according to NCSL.

In Colorado, lawmakers are paid $30,000 annually so they receive $2,500 per month.

Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, a member of the Colorado Joint Budget Committee, said he’s unsure whether he would support the bill.

“I understand the point he’s making and agree that passing the budget is first and foremost our biggest responsibility at the Legislature. That said, I’m not sure how I feel about the bill,” Steadman said.

He said he’s not sure lawmakers need to pass a bill to set ground rules in the “remote possibility” a budget isn’t passed when the Legislature adjourns.

“But I’m not sure there’s any harm in doing so,” he said.

Republican Sen. Kent Lambert, another budget committee member, said he views the bill as extortion on the Legislature before the budget debate happens.

“I think it’s not just insulting to legislators, it’s insulting to the Joint Budget Committee,” he said.

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