Colorado lawmakers face gridlock as session begins
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER – They talked cooperation, but as Colorado lawmakers opened the 2012 lawmaking session Wednesday with patriotic songs and the usual pomp, Republicans and Democrats drew sharp partisan battle lines indicating a divisive term.
Leaders on each side said creating jobs and boosting the economy will headline the term.
“Now is the exact time to focus our combined energy and intellect on doing our part to improve the economic condition of our state,” said Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty.
But they laid out vastly different ideas for making it happen, and partisan tensions over new district lines were still fresh.
“I’m under no illusion that this session will be easy. In fact, everyone thinks the odds are against us,” McNulty said.
McNulty said Republicans will not budge in its opposition to eliminating a property tax break for seniors, as called for by Democrats and Gov. John Hickenlooper. And McNulty said his party will continue to press for ways to scale back ballooning Medicaid spending and get more flexibility over the program, which Democrats and the governor insist is not possible.
Across the hall, Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer rejected McNulty’s arguments that business regulations were preventing economic gains and that government can’t create jobs.
“The responsibility for finding gainful employment lies not solely with the individual. Our public and private institutions must create the opportunities we need to thrive as individuals and succeed as a society,” Shaffer said.
The partisan divide was evident when Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman took the well and laid out a grim future for the legislative year.
“I’m not suggesting that we’re going to like each other all the time, because we won’t and we don’t,” Cadman said.
Leaders parted ways most notably on ideas to improve the economy.
McNulty called for a dramatic reduction in business regulation. He highlighted proposals aimed at simplifying the permitting process for businesses and allowing the timber industry to sell beetle-kill timber.
“This precise improvement will not come by the raising of barriers and creation of obstacles, but rather by the pragmatic work of clearing the way so that small businesses can flourish and working families can prosper,” he said.
Shaffer argued for state action to drive business to companies that employ Coloradans.
“Hiring Coloradans to work on projects paid for by Colorado tax dollars makes sense,” he said.
Senate Democrats are pushing legislation that gives bidding preferences on state contracts to companies who show they’ll employ mostly Colorado workers. They also want to provide incentives for companies to buy Colorado-made products.
House Democrats want to spend money to support business startups and give tax credits to universities for technology research.
Lawmakers also appeared headed for certain gridlock on the property tax exemption and Medicaid.
Democratic House Leader Mark Ferrandino said in his speech that the Republicans’ idea to change Medicaid spending is not feasible. Republicans have said the state should provide a “waiver” from Medicaid but have provided few details on such a waiver.
“Let’s stop fantasizing about a magic Medicaid waiver that can make our problems go away,” Ferrandino said. “It just does not exist.”
Ferrandino was refuting McNulty’s argument that Medicaid and other federal health care requirements must be resisted.
“These seemingly unending mandates take money away from our schools and other budgetary priorities and put policy makers on a hamster wheel of uncontrolled spending and induced compliance with federal mandates,” McNulty said.
Democratic Rep. Sal Pace said lawmakers can find middle ground on many of the issues they’re fighting about.
“I listened to some of the speeches today, and I was disappointed to hear this all-or-nothing language,” he said.
Pace and Shaffer are among four Colorado lawmakers running for Congress, something that can further add to legislative stalemates.
The partisanship went beyond economic policy and the role of government. Cadman used his remarks to chide Democrats for, in his opinion, presiding over a legislative state redistricting process last year that was unfair to the GOP. .
His speech prompted a rebuttal by Senate Democratic Leader John Morse, who said the new legislative district lines would hurt lawmakers from both parties and that redistricting, by definition, makes changes.
Lawmakers will hear from Hickenlooper on Thursday at the governor’s second state of the state address.
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