Colorado Legislature opens with tough economic agenda
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Colorado lawmakers began their 2009 session Wednesday facing nettlesome economic problems but celebrating a historic milestone as the first state with blacks leading both chambers of the Legislature.
Senate President Peter Groff and House Speaker Terrance Carroll, both Denver Democrats, told lawmakers their top priorities are to find jobs for thousands of Coloradans out of work, jump-start the state’s economy and bolster education. They’ll also have to cut about $600 million from the current budget because of slumping tax revenues.
Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to lay out his plans on jobs and transportation during his state of the state speech Thursday.
Lawmakers made history when they formally elected Carroll the House speaker. Groff became Senate president last year.
Groff said the state has 43,000 unemployed people who received $48 million in unemployment benefits in November. He said in the first three quarters of 2007 there were 30,000 foreclosure filings and that half a million people now rely on food banks.
Carroll warned it may get worse.
“As the recession worsens, what was once a quiet crisis is now loud, and threatens to become deafening,” Carroll said.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, a Republican from Fruita, said lawmakers face tough challenges at a time with confidence in government is low. He warned that the public is weary of a political process endlessly preoccupied with election cycles.
“For every bill, every amendment, every rule and every regulation that comes before this body, the question should be asked: Is it good for our economy, will it promote job growth, will it make Colorado an attractive place for job creators?” Penry asked.
House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said lawmakers made a mistake last year when they failed to set aside money for a rainy day.
“When the sun was shining, we did not set aside money. Now when it is raining, there is no money to set aside,” he said.
Lawmakers must cut up to $600 million from the current $19.2 billion budget. Democrats indicated they will look at increased taxes and fees for revenue. Republicans have suggested Colorado sell bonds to investors, using state buildings as collateral.
The focus in education will be to create partnerships between business and higher education to provide skills for jobs in renewable energy, a priority of the Ritter administration.
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