Colorado lawmakers convene, tackle budget |

Colorado lawmakers convene, tackle budget

Colleen Slevin and Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Warning that there are rough roads ahead, Colorado lawmakers returned to work Wednesday and immediately began efforts to tackle education reform and fill a $1.5 billion gap in the state budget.

The first day featured speeches by legislative leaders, to be followed Thursday by the governor’s state of the state speech.

In prepared remarks, House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, told his colleagues that Colorado has weathered hard times before and can do it again.

“Two wars, two recessions – one nearly resulting in economic collapse – disasters both natural and man-made. If anything, history’s long march, which rarely presents time to exhale, is speeding up. Today, though better than yesterday, again presents this nation and this state with new challenges,” Carroll told the 65 members of the House.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, said it’s a new decade that requires new ideas.

Shaffer said legislators will consider bills allowing job retraining accounts for employees offering tax benefits for education and retraining, health care loan programs for rural communities, a new renewable energy standard and a plan to fix the struggling state employee pension fund.

He said creating jobs will be a major focus this year.

“A better life for our children depends on their ability to compete in a global marketplace. A good job requires a good education,” he said.

In a rare departure from first-day ceremonies, the Senate immediately got to work on public education reform in an effort to meet a deadline Tuesday to qualify for millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said state government was “inexplicably unprepared” for an economic crisis, with no rainy day fund, no savings strategy and no plans to deal with it.

He warned against trying to balance the budget with new fees and other revenue enhancements, including proposals to increase taxes on food, pharmaceuticals, farm land and the Internet.

“Choosing to raise these taxes may bring in a few extra dollars to the treasury, but these actions come with consequences,” he said.

House Minority Leader Mike May, a Republican from Parker, said the challenges facing lawmakers this year “are nothing compared to what some families and businesses have experienced during this historic recession.”

“We cannot ever lose sight of the fact that every decision we make has a real-world impact,” he said.

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