DENVER (AP) – A long-awaited battle over taxes and spending saw its opening round on Wednesday, when Colorado’s 100 lawmakers reported to work for the 2016 session with partisan speeches and grandstanding.
The legislative term will be dominated by Colorado’s constitutional spending restrictions. The state’s booming economy means that tax collections are growing faster than permitted by law, giving legislators who write the state budget a perplexing dilemma: Try to avoid refunding the money, or cut spending on things like health care, schools and roads?
Legislative leaders didn’t mince words in their opening-day speeches. Colorado has a Democratic House but a Republican Senate, meaning the parties will have to agree on how to balance the books.
“The same economic realities that forced us to cut our budget in lean times should be blessing us today with the ability to invest for the long-term prosperity of our state,” said House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder.
Republicans said disciplined spending decisions, honoring the law’s commitment to taxpayers and issuing bonds for transportation are the way to go. “While I agree that funding for education and transportation are critical, under no circumstances should that justify violating the state constitution,” said House Republican Leader Brian DelGrosso of Loveland.
Joining the budget battle Thursday will be Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who wants lawmakers to approve his plan to avoid refunding taxpayer refunds. Hickenlooper wants the Legislature to reclassify about $750 million in fees paid by hospital patients, a maneuver that would allow Colorado to avoid taxpayer refunds for several years.
“They’re not recognizing the scale of the problem,” Hickenlooper told reporters Tuesday of Republicans’ bonds proposal. He insisted the fast-growing state cannot bond its way to pay for highways without sufficient revenue.
Lawmakers’ other plans for the session:
Both parties agree that a lack of affordable housing threatens Colorado’s economy. Democrats want to set up tax-exempt savings accounts for first-time homebuyers to make down payments and closing costs. DelGrosso said the private sector should handle demand.
“We will not solve the affordable housing problem by throwing money at it,” he said.
Hullinghorst vowed vigorous opposition to any moves to restrict women’s reproductive rights.
Republican Senate Leader Bill Cadman spent most of his remarks indicating that police oversight bills will face a high bar. He repeatedly honored police and members of the military, some of whom he invited to sit on the Senate floor.
“Our words and our deeds must support them, but our policies must protect them,” Cadman said, warning Democrats he would not abide bills that could be seen as attempts to vilify peace officers.
Democrats promise legislation to address racial profiling by law enforcement, among other issues.
– By JAMES ANDERSON, AP Writer
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