Colorado lawmakers call for reform in budget debate
March 30, 2010
DENVER (AP) – Colorado lawmakers say they’re tired of going from crisis to crisis in the budget debate and they’re offering a package of reforms they say will serve as a roadmap for future lawmakers.
House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann and Minority Leader Mike May, both term-limited, say they plan to offer bills to fix transportation funding, corrections and higher education before their terms end in a month and a half.
The two veteran lawmakers say they inherited budget issues that have them struggling to balance next year’s $18.2 billion state budget that begins July 1 and they don’t want to leave the problem for future generations. They hope to begin debate on the reforms after they fix next year’s budget, which gets its first test in the House on Wednesday.
“We’re doing the best we can to draw a roadmap on where the Legislature needs to go in the future,” said Weissmann, a Democrat from Louisville.
He’s partnering with May, a Republican from Parker, because they have a combined 20 years of legislative experience, eight years for May in the House and eight years for Weissmann in the House and four in the Senate.
May said none of the ideas are new, but this is the first time legislative leaders have come together to put together a package to present to their colleagues offering a solution.
“Let’s sail this ship of state in a different direction,” May said as he prepared to sit down for another round of negotiations on the bills that are still being drafted.
May said one bill would allow the Department of Corrections to reallocate resources and manage assets, even close prisons without permission from legislators. May said trying to close a prison is like trying to close a military base, there will always be opposition.
For higher education, lawmakers are looking a plan to streamline admissions, allowing state residents to use a single application and forcing them to go to a community college if they need remedial classes.
May said the best way to solve the funding problem for transportation is to require municipalities to participate in transportation projects.
John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University, said even if the measures don’t pass, it gives lawmakers a place to start. He said constitutional amendments give lawmakers very few options to deal with the economic downturn.
“We have a fiscal mess that has to be fixed. We’ve got to look ahead to more than just the next election or the next session,” Straayer said.