COLORADO LEGISLATIVE SERVICES, LLC
Somewhere between a lawsuit, the bomb cyclone (yes, that is what it was really called) and the weakened March revenue forecast, state lawmakers managed to make headway on a number of bills. Yet, the hope that the next seven weeks will somehow result in a bipartisan work-a-thon seems more unrealistic than ever. Expectations for divisiveness remain high and the overall atmosphere at the capitol has become mutinous.
This week an attempt to overhaul the oil and gas industry drew protests. Controversial legislation on the rights of gun owners has spurred debates late into the night. Gov. Jared Polis (D) was engaged in a public feud with members from his own party on spending priorities. One Republican legislator wants to succeed. Other democrats are battling each other on major priorities like the repeal of the death penalty. The threat of recall elections is looming for two Democrats.
Tensions were already at a boiling point on Monday when Republican leaders in the state Senate, grounded debate to a halt by invoking a rule that required the six-hour reading of a 575,000-word statutory clean up bill to make a point about the pace at which Democrats are moving controversial legislation.
“The temperature is rising,” said state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada).
The tumultuousness continued into Tuesday when a GOP lawsuit against Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) and the Secretary of the Senate Cindy Markwell found them in violation of the state constitution. This restraining order issued by a Denver District Court came during floor debate on one of the year’s most watched pieces of legislation, the oil and gas omnibus bill which passed on a party line vote of 19-15.
Late night “second reading” debate came just before a storm pummeled the state with ice and snow that caused the Governor to activate the National Guard and declare a State of Emergency. Denver International Airport grounded all flights (only the fourth time in history), thousands of drivers were stranded around the state, 190,000 Coloradans were without power and all state business ceased; all except for the state Senate which still met to debate another extremely controversial bill, the state run Family and Medical Leave Insurance plan. Hundreds of individuals and business owners, unable to attend the hearing heading the advice of the Governor to stay off the roads, submitted testimony which was not read into the record in an effort to save time.
Push for rapid movement on these pieces of legislation comes just after the midpoint of the 2019 legislative session. Democrats are beginning to feel the pressure to make good on their campaign promises, but in doing so, remain concerned over going too far and losing the trust of voters.
The new budget forecast came out Friday and amplifies the contentious mood. The Governor and lawmakers, once hopeful to get a sense of whether there is enough money to pay for their numerous priorities like funding full day kindergarten and more transportation spending, now have a bitter pill to swallow as economic growth in the state is starting to slow.
The nonpartisan Legislative Council Forecast shows that the state will have $1.18 billion more to save or spend in the General Fund than what is budgeted to be spent and saved in 2018-2019, which is about $260 million less than they had expected in December.
Heeding warning, state Senator and chief budget writer Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City), said it’s “actually a false number” because it does not take into account any caseload growth, including inflationary growth for public schools mandated by the state constitution.
“We have mandated costs. We have costs by law that we are required to cover,” he explained. “That number could end up being a lot less once you factor all that in.”
In what seems to be a hedge against that argument and an effort to do the work of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), the OSPB Forecast shows the the state will have $29.6 million more to save or spend, after taking into account the Governor’s proposed budget changes including full-day kindergarten, a cap on college tuition rates, expanded preschool enrollment, health care measures and an increase in the state reserve fund.
Projections were immediately met with skepticism from the JBC, seemingly onto the play from the Governor’s office. “I see incredulity,” said Lauren Larson, the Governor’s budget director, as she showed lawmakers how they could pay for full-day kindergarten without busting the budget.
From the beginning of the Polis term, JBC leaders have expressed concern about the long-term cost of Governor’s plan and cautioned that other priority areas also need money. Democrats are considering a plan to gradually cover the cost, but the Governor is pushing back, citing failures in past years to phase in full-day kindergarten.
Over the course of the next week, the JBC members will finish up the state budget, preparing it for Senate introduction on the week of March 25.
The Colorado Bioscience Association (CBSA) held their day at the capitol, discussing with legislators like state Sen. Bob Gardner (top) above the needs the industry has, like access to capital and a friendly business environment. In photo on left OEDIT staffer address the crowd to discuss access to capital issues. On the right, Scott Larson, Chair of CBSA Policy Committee chats with an innovative cranial health company.
CLS owner, partner and rockstar, Melanie Layton, was named this week as on of the Denver Business Journal's Top 40 Women in Energy of 2019. Selected over hundreds of women influencers, Melanie's tenacity and reputation continue to set her apart and her team will be celebrating her at a reception on April 23rd, hosted by DBJ.
"My firm’s mission is to help diverse companies and associations thrive in the ever-changing political world with experience and professionalism. As a lobbyist, I collaborate with legislators to create a business-friendly setting that will attract responsible energy companies to locate and expand in Colorado," Melanie told DBJ when asked what role she plays in the sector.
This is the fifth year DBJ has honored women from a variety of industries within the sector. Those sectors include exploration, production, engineering, renewable, law, well services, finance, manufacturing, education, training, public policy and environment.
CLS Partner Garin Vorthmann was honored with selection in 2017.