Colorado gov: Lawmakers got difficult bills passed |

Colorado gov: Lawmakers got difficult bills passed

Colleen Slevin and Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
With state leaders and legislators behind him, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signs the $18.2 billion budget into law, in his Denver office on Thursday, April 29, 2010. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Diego James Robles) ** MANDATORY CREDIT MAGS OUT TV OUT ONLINES OUT **
AP | The Denver Post

DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter believes his decision not to run for re-election and the lame-duck status of some legislative leaders helped lawmakers get difficult legislation passed this year.

Ritter said Thursday that bills that were helped by the lack of election year politics included teacher tenure reform, cuts to state employee pensioners and pushing utilities toward replacing coal power plants with ones powered by natural gas.

“I wasn’t running for re-election and I was free of election year politics,” Ritter said, the day after lawmakers adjourned. He said the fact that leading House Democrats including Speaker Terrance Carroll and Majority Leader Paul Weissmann of Louisville are term-limited also made it easier to tackle difficult issues during this year’s 120-day session.

Ritter also worked with Senate Republican Leader Josh Penry – who once had hoped to replace him as governor – on the power plant bill. Penry saw an opportunity to increase gas drilling jobs; Ritter also wanted to clean up pollution.

Penry and new Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer worked together on a proposal aimed at making the state’s Public Employees Retirement Association solvent within 30 years. Ritter signed the bill and Colorado became the first state to cut benefits for its existing retirees.

He acknowledged the fight over the teacher tenure bill left deep wounds among fellow Democrats and strained the party’s relationship with one of its traditional backers.

“I’m hopeful that all will be repaired, but that will take some time,” Ritter said.

It was still an election year for most people at the Capitol with all seats in the House and half of those in the Senate up for election. Despite that, Ritter said Democrats made the tough choices to cover a $1.3 billion shortfall in the state budget next year, without much help from Republicans.

Democrats largely supported Ritter’s $18.2 billion budget package, which cut $260 million from public schools but also ended or suspended $140 million in tax credits and exemptions on everything from online sales to industrial energy bills to takeout containers.

Republicans criticized Democrats for passing $1.5 billion in taxes and fees in the past two years, including a fee supported by hospitals to increase Medicaid funding. They also point out that 4,200 people lost their jobs when cut off its Colorado affiliates after the state went after online sales tax.

Ritter also defended his only veto of the session, a measure that would have eased restrictions on registering a farm vehicle.

Democrats refused to allow Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, to attempt a veto override on the last day of the session because they were afraid it might pass.

“They didn’t want to give their governor a black eye. It was a slap in the face for agriculture, which wasn’t looked on kindly this session. It says he didn’t trust farmers and ranchers to be honest about the use of their vehicles,” Baumgardner said.

Ritter said he wasn’t worried about a veto override, which would have been his first and only override since taking office three years ago.

“There are a lot of folks who might take advantage of that. It wasn’t a slap at agriculture,” Ritter said.

Under current law, people registering a farm truck may be required to provide tax records to prove they work in agriculture.

The bill would have barred issuers of farm truck license plates from requiring owners to show proof of eligibility for those agricultural license plates.