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Legislative Library: Jan. 13, 2005

The legislative library is a compilation of the day's political articles appearing in Colorado publications. The clips are compiled by state employees and have been made available to 9NEWS.com. Publications included in this edition are The Rocky Mountain News, Denver Post, Boulder Daily Camera, Colorado Springs Gazette, Pueblo Chieftan, Grand Junction and Fort Collins Coloradoan.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 1/13—NEW DEM LEADERS VOW TO FIX BUDGET—LYNN BARTELS AND PEGGY LOWE Rocky Mountain News GOP senator fails to block nomination of Senate president In a day filled with snow and show, Democrats on Wednesday took control of the Colorado legislature with pledges to fix the budget and get the state's economy moving again. But in ceremonies usually marked by pomp and good will, a leading Republican spoiled the party by trying to block the nomination of new Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald. The unexpected breach of protocol underscored the dramatic differences in the new leadership of the Senate and House. The House gave a thunderous standing ovation to new Speaker Andrew Romanoff, of Denver. But across the hall, Republican Sen. Norma Anderson, of Lakewood, snubbed anointed presidential candidate Fitz-Gerald, of Jefferson County, by nominating Denver Democrat Peter Groff for the post.ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 1/13—NEARLY 100 BILLS OFFERED ON OPENING DAY-STAFF Rocky Mountain News Colorado House leaders decided the first official bill of the year would outlaw raids on state "cash funds." Cash funds support programs such as the Colorado Children's Trust Fund, Educator Licensure Cash Fund and Hazardous Substance Response Fund. Because of budget constraints over the past few years, lawmakers have used those funds for general state services. "We've done a lot of harm to the people of Colorado," said Rep. Michael Garcia, D-Aurora, sponsor of the bill. Raiding the cash funds has hurt small businesses by forcing new taxes on them, and it has taken away money earmarked for toxic-waste cleanup. Garcia's bill was one of nearly 100 that lawmakers introduced Wednesday on the opening day of the session. Others included: ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 1/13—CURE FOR BUDGET'S AILMENTS MAY BE NEAR—JIM TANKERSLEY Rocky Mountain News JBC members praise plan that has backing of Dems, Republicans Colorado's ailing budget dominated opening day at the state legislature - both in the spotlight, as lawmakers met in a joint session to discuss the problem, and behind the scenes, where a possible bipartisan solution inched closer to reality. Lawmakers on the six-member Joint Budget Committee said Wednesday they could be near unanimously approving a long-term plan to balance the budget. They hope to do it by Friday "I think we're close, as a group, on something," said Rep. Dale Hall, R-Greeley, one of two Republicans on the committee. ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 1/13—FISCAL RAINY DAYS MAY BE HERE AGAIN—LYNN BARTELS Rocky Mountain News Permanent tax cuts clash with state's boom, bust history Republican Gov. Bill Owens took office in 1999 during the greatest economic boom in Colorado history. Money piled up in the state coffers - money that by law had to be returned to the taxpayers. "Our economy continues to be the most prosperous in our state's 124-year history," Owens said in 2000, during his second State of the State speech. "With a budget surplus so large, there is plenty of room to cut taxes and still ensure adequate state resources for a rainy day." ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 1/13—ANDERSON SLAPS CIVILITY IN FACE ON DEMS' DAY—MIKE LITTWIN Rocky Mountain News I knew when walking into the Capitol, I was going to see history being made. But I didn't expect the history to include an attempted coup. Of course, it was not just another typically wacky opening day at the legislature. It was Day One of the Democratic Miracle, and some people were apparently having trouble making the adjustment. You can understand the problem. In a year when Democrats lost virtually everywhere they could lose across the country, they somehow won both houses of the Colorado legislature for the first time since 1962. No one can quite explain it, although you have to laugh each time you hear the governor's theory - blaming it on rich Democrats, who, I guess, were busily hatching a conspiracy on the 18th green at Castle Pines. ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 1/13—PANEL URGES NEW RATING SYSTEM FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS—HOLLY YETTICK Rocky Mountain News Colorado's public schools should receive a single grade based on five educational measurements, a task force of 45 educators, business people and politicians has concluded. Their recommendations are the result of a two-year effort to reduce confusion resulting from conflicts among three methods of grading schools in the state. Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, and Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, have said they will carry bills this legislative session based on the recommendations of the task force, which was organized by the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Donnell-Kay Foundation. CASE is drafting the legislation now, said association executive director John Hefty. Gov. Bill Owens has said he would oppose any legislation that weakens school accountability. But state Board of Education Chairman Jared Polis says the new system will actually strengthen accountability. ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 1/13—SO MUCH FOR SENATE BI-PARTISANSHIP—EDITORIAL Rocky Mountain News Maybe, just maybe, the Colorado House can maintain bipartisanship at least long enough to get the essential budget package together. But even if it does, it looks as though the spirit won't carry over to the Senate. The Senate spent even less time than usual before getting into a partisan fight - just minutes after the opening gavel Wednesday. The nominee for Senate president is always established in advance by the majority party caucus, and as a matter of courtesy the minority joins in support. Not this year. Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, unexpectedly nominated Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, as a rival to foreordained president Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden. Groff had the instant good grace to withdraw his name. But Anderson had already insisted on a roll call. Three GOP senators joined Anderson in voting against Fitz-Gerald. ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 1/13—NICE TRY, MR. (OR MS.) X—PETER BLAKE Rocky Mountain News The legislature will open today with the Democrats safely in charge of both chambers - despite the efforts of an unknown Republican with an eye for legal technicalities to grab the Senate back for the GOP. Whoever it was failed, but he or she at least succeeded in making the Democrats a little nervous. On Nov. 2, the Democrats regained control of the Senate 18-17. A switch of one seat turns it around and the one eyed by our anonymous activist belonged to Alice Nichol, D-Adams County. DENVER POST, 1/13—SONG AND CEREMONY AS DEMS TAKE OVER—MARK P. COUCH AND JIM HUGHES Denver Post First day of new legislative session Democrats took control of the Colorado legislature for the first time in more than four decades on Wednesday with celebratory speeches tempered by some Democratic gloating and Republican sour grapes. A small group of guitar-strumming Democrats paraded into the House singing "When the Saints Go Marching In."And in the Colorado Senate, it didn't take long for the bickering to begin.On one of the first votes of the new session, a Republican senator challenged the election of Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, as Senate president.Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, surprised her colleagues by nominating Peter Groff, D-Denver, to be president."I feel very strongly that being president takes a lot of compassion for your fellow man," said Anderson, who objected to Fitz-Gerald's decision to fire a nonpartisan staff member of the Senate.Anderson's challenge failed."I'm a big girl," Fitz-Gerald said Wednesday after the vote. "I'm beyond having my feelings hurt. We were hoping to work together to solve the problems before us. It was a sad, discordant note."In her inaugural speech, Fitz-Gerald, the first female president of the Colorado Senate, called on her colleagues to awaken the "sleeping giant" in Colorado with increased spending on schools, road projects and other programs."I see an opportunity to provide a paycheck for every family, a textbook for every child and a doctor for every patient," Fitz-Gerald said.In his opening speech, Senate Minority Leader Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, called on lawmakers to address issues raised by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which curbs spending, and Amendment 23, which mandates annual increases in spending for public schools.In the House, Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, put financial matters at the top of the list."First we have to put this state on firmer financial footing," Romanoff said. "We know what's broken. What we need is the courage to fix it."Republicans tried to make the best of their minority status. Rep. Debbie Stafford, R-Aurora, brought lemons to the chamber and invited colleagues to come by her desk to drink lemonade."Our thought today is that when Republicans are handed lemons, they make lemonade," Stafford said.But Rep. David Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said he was prepared to fight."This is a battlefield here that we're on," Schultheis said. "We're not up here to just moderate everything; we're up here to fight hard for the ideals we say we stand for."DENVER POST, 1/13—STATE MONEY FOREMOST ON LAWMAKERS' MINDS—CHRIS FRATES Denver Post Legislators jump on budget crisisState lawmakers wasted little time Wednesday in picking up where they had left off in May - with the budget crisis. In a rare move, leaders called all 100 members together to listen to economic staff explain the state's money problems. It sounded a bit like a college lecture: Colorado Budget 101.Newly minted Democratic Rep. Debbie Benefield of Arvada said she came away from the presentation thinking, "There's a whole lot of work to be done."Lawmakers are facing the daunting task of reforming the state's budget laws while trying to salvage funding for programs and services.Legislators are staring down cuts of almost $93 million this year and $248 million in fiscal 2005-06.For those two years, the state will refund about $608 million to taxpayers under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, a constitutional amendment that limits state revenue.John Ziegler, who heads the staff for the legislative budget committee, told legislators that his staff determines needed revenue by assessing factors such as caseload and inflation increases in the state's major departments.The recommended cuts are the difference between the revenue needed to fund programs and available revenue.Over the past four years, lawmakers have cut $1.1 billion from the state budget because of the economic downturn.Higher education, child-welfare services, the judicial branch, Medicaid and many other programs have taken a hit.And while legislative leaders gave speeches about growing the state's economy, the legislature's chief economist said that could hurt the state without constitutional reform.Lawmakers have already started crafting TABOR-reform measures, and leaders say they will get down to business soon.But any debate about TABOR will also include Amendment 23, a constitutional amendment that requires annual increases in spending on public schools.Staff writer Chris Frates can be reached at 303-820-1633 or cfrates@denverpost.com.DENVER POST, 1/12—BLIZZARD OF NEW BILLS LAND ON CAPITOL—STEVEN K. PAULSON Denver Post An avalanche of new bills descended on the Colorado legislature today, ranging from proposals to bar state contractors from sending jobs overseas to increasing the penalties for disposing of human waste along roadsides. Notably missing, however, were proposals to deal with the budget crisis, the state's top issue for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said lawmakers are still trying to work out details of a compromise to present to voters to fix the state budget. He predicted a number of different proposals will show up over the next few weeks.Until that happens, lawmakers are limiting the number of bills they introduce, knowing that until the budget crisis is solved, there won't be any money for expensive new projects."Most lawmakers are smart enough to know anything with a big price tag is dead," Romanoff said.Sen. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, introduced a measure that would create an exemption from the business personal property tax - an effort to stimulate job growth by easing the burden on businesses. He called his bill a "baby step" toward solving the state's economic woes, which will include $234 million in cuts for the upcoming budget year.He said most lawmakers are waiting to see if any compromises are possible before introducing legislation to tackle the bigger issue that could force lawmakers to cut $234 million from this year's budget.Sen. John Evans, R-Parker, introduced a bill that would allow school districts to become independent, similar to home rule cities, and make their own rules. He said Douglas County, his home county, estimates it could save $1.5 million a year in paperwork if it passes.Evans said he doubts there will be an agreement on a plan to make permanent changes to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights because many Republicans believe it is working as intended, limiting the growth of government.He said the only plan that has a good chance of passing this year is one that asks voters to give back a year or two of their tax refund checks. He said that proposal requires only a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote to get on the ballot because it does not change the constitution.Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said water will be a major issue again this year, despite recent heavy snowfalls. He said the storms have lulled residents into a false belief that the drought is at least under control."It doesn't mean much to be above normal at the first of the year," said the Western Slope rancher.A plan he supports, introduced by Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, would allow loans of water even if the governor hasn't declared an emergency, as currently required. He said some droughts are local, and local officials need to be able to deal with their own problems.Isgar also introduced a bill that will increase the penalties for dumping human waste along highways. He said the current fine, ranging from $15 to $100, is too low to deter drivers and needs to be increased to $500.Isgar said it is a problem along the state's interstate corridors and a danger to state workers, who have to pick up bottles filled with urine and discarded diapers."This is a public safety issue," Isgar said.A summary of new bills introduced today at the state legislature:BUDGET REFORM:- Exempt property that has been fully depreciated from the business personal property tax, an effort to stimulate job growth by easing the burden on businesses. Senate Bill 44 by Sen. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs.- Create a rainy day fund and require lawmakers to sock away a portion of tax revenues each year. Require a two-thirds vote to take money out. House Bill 1005 by Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.EDUCATION:- Require school districts to tell parents and legal guardians what courses their children should take to prepare for college and about financial aid available for college. If the students don't want to take college prep classes, the parents and guardians would have to sign a document stating that they agree with that decision. House Bill 1057 by Rep. Jerry Frangas, D-Denver.TRANSPORTATION:- Bar minor drivers from transporting minor passengers for the first six months they have a license. Senate Bill 36 by Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora.- Increase the minimum fine for leaving containers of human waste along highways from $15 to $500. Authorities said the waste containers are a big problem along interstate highways and blame long-haul truckers. Senate Bill 9 by Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus.- Prohibit radar jamming devices. House Bill 1045 by Rep. Richard Decker, R-Fountain.JOBS AND THE ECONOMY- Bar state contractors from shipping jobs overseas. Democrats said it makes no sense for the state to pay companies to create jobs in other countries while so many Colorado workers are looking for jobs. Senate Bill 23 by Sen. Deanna Hanna, D-Lakewood.HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT:- Prohibit the sale and use of devices that create alcohol vapor, allowing people to get drunk without drinking. Lawmakers said the devices are becoming popular in Europe and the East Coast and worry drunken drivers will try to escape detection. Senate Bill 34 by Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora.- Make it a crime for someone who knows he or she has the AIDS virus to have sex with anyone, including a spouse. Senate Bill 17 by Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada.- Require hospitals to inform victims of sexual assault about the availability of emergency contraception. House Bill 1042 by Rep. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood.WATER:Allow loans of water rights even if the governor hasn't declared an emergency, as currently required. Legislators said the state is still in a drought, despite recent snows, and the state does not have adequate long-term storage. House Bill 1039 by Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison.DENVER POST, 1/12—DEMOCRATS TAKE COMMAND AS LEGISLATURE OPEN FOR BUSINESS—STEVEN K. PAULSON Denver Post Promising to bring a sense of urgency to the state budget crisis, Democrats took control of both the Colorado House and Senate for the first time in 42 years today as the General Assembly convened for its 120-day session. Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, was sworn in as the state's first female president, and Rep. Andrew Romanoff, a law student, was sworn in as speaker of the House.Lawmakers planned to hold a rare joint session after opening ceremonies to tackle the state's budget crisis, which will force them to cut $234 million from the budget at the same time they mail refund checks to taxpayers, unless they can come up with a plan to ask voters for relief."The only way to awaken our economic vitality is to allow us to rebound from a devastating recession. We will bring a sense of urgency to the state's economic problems because we know that education, health care and transportation systems are essential for the Colorado of the future," Fitz-Gerald said in prepared remarks.Romanoff said lawmakers have been quibbling like schoolchildren for the past two years instead of fixing the state budget."That's not the way grown-ups are supposed to act," Romanoff said in his prepared remarks.About 100 new bills were introduced, including measures that would bar state contractors from shipping jobs overseas, make it a crime for someone who knows they have the AIDS virus to have sex and prevent minor drivers from having minor passengers for the first six months they are licensed.For the third straight year, lawmakers are caught in a budget vice caused by constitutional amendments that limit state revenue and spending while requiring increased outlays for public education.One of those amendments, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights or TABOR, requires the state to send refunds to taxpayers of any state revenue over an amount set by a complex formula based on population growth and other factors.Romanoff wants legislators to ask voters in November to give up a portion of their tax refunds over the next two years in return for a permanent reduction in the state tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent.Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who will give his state of the state speech on Thursday, has proposed addressing the budget crisis by selling off the state's share of the multibillion-dollar national tobacco settlement to provide about $100 million to help balance the budget this year.He wants to ask voters to give back $500 million from their tax surplus refunds to make up for budget cuts of the past two years, with $100 million a year of that money going to transportation.Owens also wants a permanent tax cut.DENVER POST, 1/13—ABSOLUTE POWER MAY PROVE ABSOLUTELY DAUNTING FOR DEMS—DIANE CARMAN Denver Post Instead of the usual rifle-toting soldiers, Girl Scouts from Golden raised the flags in the Colorado Senate chambers Wednesday morning, and a choir from Breckenridge sang "The Storm Is Passing Over." Just a note here: The hymn was not about the snow.Yes, in case you had any question about the tenor of the 65th session of the Colorado legislature, the opening- day ceremonies were designed to make everything perfectly clear.There's a new regime around here.Republicans groused about having to move out of the comfortable digs of the majority party, as if that was what was really bugging them, while giddy Democrats tried to be gracious as they seized the gavels in both houses for the first time in more than 40 years.All the party swells were there - U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, Reps. Mark Udall, Diana DeGette and John Salazar, and a host of Democratic luminaries from Stan Matsunaka to Mike Stratton - all grinning and applauding and pounding each other on the back like prizefighters who had just delivered the ultimate sucker punch.But beneath the hallelujahs and the you-go-girls runs an undercurrent of anxiety.So much to do and so little time was the refrain."One hundred twenty days, less than 1,000 hours to create a better Colorado," said Joan Fitz-Gerald, the first woman Senate president in the state's history. Time to stage the "great Colorado comeback," said Andrew Romanoff, the first Democratic speaker of the House since Lyndon Johnson was president.Democrats everywhere have huge expectations."The No. 1 priority has to be to get the state's fiscal house in order," said former state Sen. Penfield Tate, a party icon who is watching from the sidelines with way more than just casual interest. "We have a government that simply isn't equipped to handle the needs of the citizens."A former Democratic state senator, District Attorney Bill Thiebault of Pueblo, said he is excited about the sense of possibility but worried that the Democratic leaders might second- guess themselves and "think they have to be like Republicans.""The Democrats need to lead by being true to their principles, not abandoning them," he said. "People in this state want leaders. They want people who will finally solve our problems."Their agenda for the session is ambitious, especially since so much depends on reaching consensus on overhauling the gnarly Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.Besides tackling TABOR, the new leaders are calling on fellow lawmakers to rescue higher education, confront the exploding crisis in health care, rebuild the state's economy, improve schools, restore protections for the environment and find new ways to manage diminishing resources - like water."The Democrats have a chance to write a new book for the people in this state. They have the chance to empower them," said Thiebault.What they don't have, though, is the authority to increase taxes. And that keeps everyone's ambition in check."We're in such dire financial straits," said Tate. "It doesn't matter if you're for big government or small government. What we have is small government, and we will continue to have to cut things people in the state think are essential."Still, despite the fiscal quagmire that is state government in 2005, the eager new majority party was positively aglow on Wednesday.It's a time of "opportunity," said Fitz-Gerald. It's a day for the "majesty of imagination," said Romanoff.Colorado's feisty political dynamic offers a rare ray of hope for discouraged Democrats still eager to prove they have a better idea for America.After the defeats of 2004, they need a success here.So, don't be nervous, all you Colorado Dems. Don't worry about a thing.Only the whole world is watching.Diane Carman's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at 303-820-1489 or dcarman@denverpost.com.DENVER POST, 1/13—KEN'S CARROT, NORMA'S STICK—EDITORIAL Denver Post Ken Salazar has always been a low-key kind of fellow, but he made quite a dramatic debut last week in Washington. Up at the state Capitol yesterday we couldn't help but wonder as Norma Anderson went galloping off in the other direction. Anderson used her Republican vote in the state Senate to do a number on Democrat Joan Fitz-Gerald. It's common for legislators to give unanimous approval in leadership elections, but Anderson, normally a sensible sort, apparently wanted to send a message. Though she has complained that Fitz-Gerald can be an antagonistic figure, it was Anderson who took antagonistic action, casting a protest vote against Fitz-Gerald's election as Senate president.Well, that's one way to make your presence felt.In contrast, Salazar.He used his new position in the U.S. Senate last week to cross the political aisle and embrace Alberto Gonzales, among the most controversial of President Bush's Cabinet nominees. He angered some Colorado Democrats by doing so, though we're not sure that it should have come as any big surprise.As White House counsel, Attorney General-designate Gonzales facilitated policy memos that drew legal justifications for using torture to interrogate detainees captured overseas. Persuasive arguments have been made that the memos set the tone for the mistreatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. One of the pictures that comes to mind is that of the human pyramids of naked Iraqi detainees with hoods over their heads at Abu Ghraib prison.As the president's lawyer, Gonzales isn't a policymaker, but the interrogation memos are his cross to bear. Other freshmen might have avoided this rat's nest, or waited to see which way the wind was blowing, but Gonzales is a friend, and Salazar volunteered to introduce him to the Judiciary Committee. The fur has been flying ever since, with Salazar's office getting some appreciative mail along with many letters in protest and disbelief.Salazar was at the statehouse yesterday for opening day of the new legislature and could barely make his way through the corridors for all the backslapping from Democrats, Republicans and lobbyists alike. Nary a word was said about the Gonzales controversy, and later Salazar told us he was satisfied that his decision to introduce Gonzales was a good one.Indeed, sticking his neck out for a friendly Republican was a vivid demonstration of Salazar's independence and speaks volumes about Colorado's new senator - his loyalty, his willingness to ignore party lines and his ability to withstand some heat. He's confused and angered some Democrats, but likely earned some political capital that can only help a freshman from the minority party. In the process he endeared himself to Hispanics who have embraced the rags-to-riches success stories that Gonzales and Salazar share."I believe I did the right thing for Colorado," Salazar said Wednesday. We think it could have been even righter - and will be if Salazar goes on record on the issues that have aroused concerns about Gonzales. He should follow his public introduction of his friend with a public position against the use of torture and a strong expression regarding the balance between security and civil liberties.Salazar said he is asking Gonzales about interrogation policy as well as changes in the Patriot Act that would restore some balance on the civil liberties front and provide greater support for local law enforcement as "first responders" in security crises.He expects Gonzales to be confirmed but in fact has not committed his vote."I will make a statement (on the Senate floor) that torture is abhorrent and is illegal under U.S. laws and and international accords," Salazar said. It's essential that Gonzales understand that Senate votes depend on his own credibility on the subject.Coming back to the state Senate, veteran lawmaker Anderson convinced three other senators to register "no" votes against Fitz-Gerald, the first woman to serve as state Senate president. She like Salazar has proven to be independent, shall we say, beyond expectations.9NEWS, 1/12—LEGISLATURE OPENS FOR BUSINESS—PAOLA FARERDENVER - Democrats have formally taken control of the Colorado House and Senate for the first time in 42 years as the Legislature opened its 120-day session this morning in Denver. Golden Democrat Joan Fitz-Gerald was sworn in as the state's first female Senate president. Denver Rep. Andrew Romanoff took the oath as speaker of the House. Lawmakers scheduled a rare joint session following opening ceremonies in an effort to tackle Colorado's budget crisis. The shortfall is blamed in part on voter-approved constitutional amendments that dictate how the state spends money and imposes tax refunds.A lack of money will force legislators to cut $234 million from the budget at the same time they mail $446 million in tax-refund checks -- unless they come up with a plan to ask voters for relief. Romanoff says this year, reforming the budget process must be the immediate focus of the Legislature. His proposal would ask voters in November to restore state funding to the pre-recession level of 2000 in return for a reduction in the state tax rate.Republican Gov. Bill Owens is expected to propose selling off the state's share of the national tobacco settlement to help balance this year's budget. The governor will make his formal address to the Legislature known as the "State of the State" speech on Thursday. It will be Web cast on 9NEWS.DAILY CAMERA-JAN 13-DEMS TAKE HELM-RYAN MORGAN-LOCAL NEWS Boulder Daily Camera A snowstorm Wednesday morning delayed the start of the 2005 session of the state Legislature. When ceremonies finally got under way an hour behind schedule, Rep. Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, the newly minted Speaker of the House, said the weather wasn't an accident. "Someone told me on the way in this morning that Democrats would only take over the House of Representatives when something froze over," he said. "Well, it appears to be starting." Democrats took control of both chambers of the state Legislature as the 2005 session began Wednesday, vaulting Boulder lawmakers to some of the state's highest political positions. Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Boulder County, became the first woman in Colorado history to be elected president of the Senate. Rep. Alice Madden, D-Boulder, took over as House majority leader. Fitz-Gerald's second-in-command, Senate President Pro-Tem Peter Groff, D-Denver, became the first African-American to hold that position. The ascendant Democrats pledged to work with their Republican counterparts — and with Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who can veto any legislation — to fix the state's budget woes. But signs of tension between the two parties already were evident on the session's first day. Fitz-Gerald said the new Democratic majority would lead the way to help jump-start what she called Colorado's sluggish economy and shortfall-ridden state budget. "The only way to awaken our economic vitality is to allow us to rebound from a devastating recession," Fitz-Gerald said. "We have been meeting with leaders from around the state and have heard that they expect us to fix the state budget problems now, so that once again, Colorado has an attractive climate for job creation and prosperity." Romanoff echoed Fitz-Gerald's calls for immediate action on the state's budget and economy. The economy won't recover unless the state takes responsibility and provides a good education, a strong health-care system and good roads, he said. "We want our kids to have the best education in the world. We'll hire the most talented teachers. We'll keep the doors open for you, even if your family's not very rich," he said. "We want you to be able to see a doctor when you get sick." Later, he added, "We want to make Colorado the best place to run a business, whether you're selling lemonade or microchips." Republicans said they agreed with Democrats' goals — up to a point. "Today represents a new day for the people of Colorado," said Rep. Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, the new House minority leader. "They want us to put partisanship aside and fix the budget mess that has hamstrung Colorado." Stengel went on to say lawmakers could easily address the projected $248 million shortfall by selling off the future payments that tobacco companies owe several states, including Colorado, as the result of a lawsuit settlement. That would net the state at least $800 million. "All that's left to settle is the details," he said, adding that the leaders from both parties had agreed to pursue that option. That drew a critical response from Madden, who said her party hasn't yet agreed to sell the debt. "We're still in negotiations," she said. "Nobody has agreed to it. He's really misrepresenting our position." DAILY CAMERA-JAN 13-LAWMAKERS TACKLE BUDGET-RYAN MORGAN-LOCAL NEWS Boulder Daily Camera The Legislature's first day is usually short, sweet and ceremonial. Old members welcome their recently elected colleagues, new leaders take up their gavels, then everyone goes to lunch. And so it went Wednesday. But when the state's 100 representatives returned from their repasts, they found real work waiting for them in the form of a two-hour briefing on the state's budget difficulties. Democratic lawmakers said they scheduled the rare joint session to give the several dozen new members a better grasp of the tangle of constitutional provisions that have put the state budget in a choke hold. And the new leaders said they wanted to send a clear message that arriving at both short-term and long-term budget solutions is their first priority. Two conflicting constitutional provisions have put the budget in a bind. The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights limits the amount of revenue the state can keep and spend, while Amendment 23 requires increased spending on K-12 education every year. Coupled with a statewide recession, the two provisions have resulted in a projected shortfall of $248 million for the 2005-2006 fiscal year. Amending either TABOR or Amendment 23 requires voter approval, and any provision that lawmakers want to put on the ballot must win a two-thirds vote in both chambers. If legislators don't find a solution, lawmakers in both parties agree, state schools such as the University of Colorado could lose their entire funding by the end of the decade. John Ziegler, a staff state economist, told legislators that the short-term accounting solutions they've attempted in the past won't work. "You can't make one-time cuts," he said. "The days of doing that are gone. You have to solve this structurally." Debates over how to do just that are already under way. House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, has proposed lowering Colorado's tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent; in exchange, the state would be allowed to keep excess tax revenue instead of returning it to taxpayers in years the state runs a surplus. House Minority Leader Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, said Wednesday that Republicans would be willing to examine that solution, but said that several other constitutional provisions, especially Amendment 23, are to blame for the budget problem as well. Republicans will want to see those addressed, too, he said. "Simply amending TABOR and ignoring these other systematic problems will be extremely short-sighted," he said. DAILY CAMERA-JAN 13-BOULDER COUNTY MAY REJOIN GROUP-VANESSA MILLER-LOCAL NEWS Boulder Daily Camera The new Boulder County Board of Commissioners said they will probably approve spending $53,000 this year to join Colorado Counties Inc. Boulder is the only county in the state that is not a member of the 98-year-old organization, which represents local entities at the state legislative level. "I think it will give us a stronger voice in the legislative process," Commissioner Will Toor said. "We are greatly affected by decisions in the Legislature. I believe that joining Colorado Counties will help us affect change." The annual fee is based on the county's assessed value and population. Commissioners, who will vote on the membership Thursday, said the organization's services are worth the cost. "Given the impact the Legislature has on the counties, I think anything we can do to join is money well spent," Toor said. "There is a reason that every other county in the state has joined." This would not be the first time Boulder County has joined Colorado Counties. It backed out of its previous membership in 1996. "At that time, Colorado Counties was a conservative organization," Toor said. "But over the past five years, Colorado Counties has changed and now does a better job of representing the views of all the counties in Colorado." Larry Kallenberger, executive director of Colorado Counties Inc., said he welcomed Boulder County's return. "It's like having one of our family that has been gone for a while call and say they are coming back," he said. "It is fantastic." Kallenberger said the city and county of Denver left the organization at the same time as Boulder County, but returned last year. "This is part of a movement, let's say," new Commissioner Ben Pearlman said. According to Colorado Counties Inc., the organization won 83 percent of the legislation it lobbied for last year. Its General Government Steering Committee supported 19 bills, 16 of which were approved. The committee opposed seven bills, and successfully defeated all but one.GAZETTE, 1/13—DEMOCRATS' CELEBRATION IS BRIEF—KYLE HENLEY Colorado Springs Gazette Budget casts pall over opening of General AssemblyDENVER c Democrats took charge of the General Assembly on Wednesday with cheers and tears, then quickly stopped the party to address the state's mounting budget problems.Democrats were ecstatic to be in control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 44 years, and party members celebrated that fact often during the opening day of the 65th General Assembly.That exuberance, however, was tempered by the $514 million budget shortfall facing the state during the next two years and the fiscal chaos anticipated because of competing budget provisions in the state constitution.The budget mess is so serious — the state may not have enough money to provide basic services — that it was the focus of every major speech by incoming leaders.It also was the impetus for a two-hour joint session Wednesday afternoon to make sure all 65 House members and 35 Senate members understand the gravity of the situation."We will bring a sense of urgency to the state's economic problems because we know that education, health care and transportation systems are essential for the Colorado of the future," said Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden.Fitz-Gerald, a lawmaker who has weathered many a political storm, is the first female Senate president in Colorado."With only 120 days, solving the budget gap is our No. 1 priority, because without that, nothing else matters," she said."We will work to see a bipartisan package move through the Legislature as soon as possible."The most detailed solution put forth so far is the brainchild of House Speaker An- drew Romanoff, D-Denver, who devoted his entire opening-day speech to drumming up support for his plan."We can balance the budget without raising taxes," he said."In fact, we can afford to reduce the tax rate if voters allow us to use the money we are already collecting."That's the heart of the solution. It can be summarized in a single sentence: cut and invest. Cut the tax rate to 4.5 percent and invest the revenue that results."Colorado's tax rate is 4.63 percent.In exchange for a lower tax rate, Romanoff wants voters to loosen the spending restraints of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, the 1992 amendment that caps the amount of money government can keep and spend.Many people, lawmakers among them, believe TABOR is hobbling the state's ability to provide good colleges, lowcost health care to the needy and adequate roads.Romanoff originally proposed a complete repeal of TABOR's caps, but Wednesday he shifted course and suggested keeping some form of limits in place."I propose we limit the size of state government, as a share of the economy, to the level it reached in 2000," he said."That means we can make up some of the ground we lost during the recent recession and that the relative size of government will never get bigger."Republicans believe Democrats are putting too much focus on TABOR and ignoring other budget-related problems.For instance, Amendment 23, passed in 2000, requires the state to increase education spending each year by inflation plus 1 percent.That clashes with TABOR's caps and makes budget problems worse.The Gallagher Amendment, approved in the 1980s, limits the growth of property taxes, and 2000's Senior Homestead Exemption will refund $56 million or more to aging property owners beginning in 2006."Simply amending TABOR and ignoring systemic problems created by these other amendments would be extremely shortsighted," said House Minority Leader Joe Stengel, R-Littleton."We have a rare opportunity to show real leadership, and Colorado is watching."GAZETTE, 1/13—LEGISLATURE OPENS SESSION WITH END RUN AT PRESIDENT—KIM NGUYEN Colorado Springs Gazette 1st female Senate president survives GOP challengeA Republican lawmaker surprised a packed chamber on the opening day of the legislative session by nominating a Democrat for Senate president.Sen. Norma Anderson from Lakewood asked members on Wednesday to vote Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, as president instead of Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden. Democrats had already chosen Fitz-Gerald to take the leadership position."I'm sorry," she whispered to Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, who was trying to sway her from making the announcement on the Senate floor.Former Majority Leader Anderson's unusual request follows a move by Fitz-Gerald to remove a longtime Senate staffer. Fitz-Gerald replaced the Senate secretary, a job held by a nonpartisan person who was to have remained in the position this session. Fitz-Gerald made the change soon after she was selected president by the Democrats."I just feel that being president takes compassion for your fellow man," Anderson said to Senate members.Anderson said Fitz-Gerald's personnel switch was a sign of disrespect to the staff serving the lawmakers. Anderson said she expects repercussions later in the session for her actions.Groff declined the nomination, saying, "Today is a new day and it is time to move on for the state of Colorado."The second nomination created little resistance for Fitz-Gerald, who became the first female Senate president in state history on a 31-4 vote. Senators gave her a standing ovation after the vote; Anderson stood with members but did not applaud.JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE MAKING HISTORY: Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, was sworn in Wednesday as the state's first female Senate president. PUEBLO CHIEFTAN-JAN 13-LEGISLATURE BEGINS 2005 SESSION WITH DEMS IN CONTROL-CHARLES ASHBY-METRO/REGION Pueblo Chieftan DENVER - While an early morning snowstorm Wednesday was severe enough to delay the start of the 2005 legislative session, it wasn't bad enough to chill the Democratic Party's glee in taking over the Colorado Legislature for the first time in 44 years.House Democrats' cheers when Rep. Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, took the Speaker's podium for the first time could be heard throughout the Capitol.And when Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, took over as the Colorado Senate's first female president, and Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, became its first black president pro-tem, senators from both sides of the political aisle praised them both for those milestones in the state's 126-year history."For all of the history of this day, one word summarizes what is actually before us: opportunity," Fitz-Gerald said. "We in this body share an opportunity to shape the future of this great and majestic state."Romanoff and Fitz-Gerald made it clear that it is their intent to push first for a fix to the state's budget problems before tackling a slew of other issues."Besides the budget, health care and education, there are many issues facing us this session, such as water, rising heating bills for our citizens, childhood immunization, the environment and homeland security," Fitz-Gerald said. "Judge our moral character and values by whether we are fair in the process, respect our peers and are good stewards of this state."While Republican leaders pledged to work closely with the new Democratic majority to fix the state's fiscal woes, House Minority Leader Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, drew a line in the sand.Stengel called on Democrats to be fair in working out a solution to the tax-and-spending limits under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, balancing any long-term fix with the education spending mandates of Amendment 23.He also said that GOP lawmakers would oppose any attempts to "roll back the clock" on matters dear to Republican hearts, such as guns or strict punishments for drug offenders."Careless rhetoric from anti-gun elements will not foster a bipartisan atmosphere in the 2005 session," Stengel said. "We should not put society and Colorado at risk in order to help balance the budget. The illegal drug industry .. . . is violent by nature. There are no nonviolent drug offenses or victimless drug transactions."Senate Minority Leader Mark Hillman, a Burlington Republican whose district includes Kiowa and Prowers counties, called on lawmakers from both parties not to ignore issues the legislators have wrestled with for years, such as finding a way to eliminate the state's business personal property tax or reining in lawsuit abuse.Hillman also called for renewed discussions on solving the state's water storage problems, tying such things as population growth and job creation to water needs."As we argue about how to - or whether to - increase storage or improve conservation, farms along the South Platte and the Lower Arkansas are drying up," Hillman said. "Main street businesses and rural schools are suffering as well, but casinos in Las Vegas, golf courses in Phoenix and lawns in Los Angeles are benefiting from our inaction."Now that the long-awaited Statewide Water Supply Initiative is complete, it is time for people of all political stripes and for responsible leaders from all areas of the state to end the strategy of divide-and-conquer, which has for so long made inaction the path of least resistance," he said. "It is time for all of us to come together to formulate a strategy (that) puts all of Colorado first."GJ SENTINEL, 1/13—BUDGET TOPS DEMOCRATS' AGENDA—DANIE HARRELSON Grand Junction Sentinel DENVER — Wednesday's winter storm delayed opening day formalities at the Colorado Statehouse but hardly slowed party leaders' drive to get to work on the state's so-called "perfect fiscal storm."Lawmakers cut short a traditionally ceremonial first day to huddle for a joint session called by Democratic leadership to examine Colorado's budget squeeze."I know it's difficult on a day that's usually ceremonious to come in and look at this," House Majority Leader Alice Madden told legislators before state budget analyst John Ziegler explained how Colorado arrived at its current fiscal state.The Boulder Democrat thanked her colleagues from the House and Senate for their goodwill and attention before reminding rookies that tackling the budget in the days ahead would be anything but wine and roses.House Minority Leader Joe Stengel said he thought bringing together both houses would benefit freshman legislators, many of whom are trying to get their arms around the four constitutional amendments branded as having produced Colorado's fiscal woes.What is more demanding than trying to swallow all the intricacies of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which limits state spending, with a side of Amendment 23, which requires the state annually increase spending on K-12 education, is the task of digesting the information and spitting out a solution."It can be overwhelming," said Josh Penry, one of Grand Junction's two newcomers to the Legislature.The Republican said he appreciated party leaders' call to action on his first day on the job. It demonstrates the strong sense of urgency to not repeat last session's last-minute efforts to address the budget, he said.Stengel, a Littleton Republican, agreed Wednesday's mostly symbolic move sent a message to voters that lawmakers were ready to roll up their sleeves and fix the budget."Mr. Speaker, let me assure you: House Republicans are committed to doing our part, and more," he told Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.For those more acquainted with the budget's finer points, Wednesday's joint session was more like rolling up one's sleeves and listening to nothing particularly astonishing.Republican Sen. Ron Teck applauded the new party in charge for setting its sights on solutions to the budget right out of the gate, but he wondered if such enthusiasm put a damper on a day that traditionally carries a bit more levity.Lawmakers' friends and family tend to outnumber the number of lawmakers on the floor on opening day. Pint-size constituents sit on legislators' laps. Smiles and playful jabs reign. Lawmakers take turns snapping photos with each other's cell phones. The agenda is light.Teck, a former member of the Joint Budget Committee, the budgeting arm of the Legislature, said he heard a bit more "grandstanding" during the question-and-answer time that followed Ziegler's presentation than questions.Attending a joint session on opening day was not the only first for the veteran Grand Junction lawmaker. He and other senators were caught off guard when Republican Sen. Norma Anderson tried to nominate Sen. Peter Groff for Senate President, the anticipated Senate President Pro Tempe, rather than Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, the anticipated Senate President.Groff declined the nomination.Romanoff received the House's full backing for speaker of the house.He and Penry agreed the joint session changed no one's minds in regards to how best fix the budget.Rep. Bernie Buescher said Wednesday's format, which invited both sides of the aisle to examine the budget shortfall, is a refreshing change of approach to resolving the state's fiscal headache."We need to restore sanity, and we need to restore honesty to our budgeting process," said the freshman Democrat from Grand Junction who nabbed a coveted seat on the six-man Joint Budget Committee.Romanoff called on lawmakers to put aside partisan politics and confront the budget early and head-on.He turned the House chambers into a classroom for a few minutes Wednesday as he laid out three simple goals he said both parties share for Colorado's youth: quality education, access to medical care and good jobs in the future.He chided his colleagues for behavior not becoming adults."We tell you to be more responsible," he told the children, whom he called the most important people in the room. "It's time for us to take some responsibility, too."GAZETTE-JAN 13-OWENS TO OUTLINE HIS PLANS FOR FIXING THE BUDGET-STEVEN K. PAULSON-METRO Colorado Springs Gazette DENVER (AP) -- For the first time in 42 years, a governor will give a state of the state speech Thursday to a Legislature where Democrats have control of both chambers.Republican Gov. Bill Owens will discuss his plans to fix the state budget, the state's need to find permanent water storage, and the need to improve funding for education, hit hard during the recent economic slump.In December, Owens said Colorado's economy is improving, but fiscal restraints are holding back the state's ability to grow by hurting funding for transportation, education and other projects businesses want before they will expand.The governor's speech followed a historic day on Wednesday, when Democrats took control of both the state House and Senate for the first time since the Kennedy administration as the Legislature convened for its 120-day session.Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, was sworn in as the state's first female president, and Rep. Andrew Romanoff, a law student, was sworn in as speaker of the House.After the opening ceremonies, lawmakers convened for a rare joint session for a briefing on the budget. State budget officials told lawmakers that they are caught in a budget vice caused by constitutional amendments that limit state revenue and spending while requiring increased outlays for public education.One of those amendments, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights or TABOR, requires the state to send refunds to taxpayers of any state revenue over an amount set by a complex formula based on population growth and other factors.Romanoff wants legislators to ask voters in November to give up a portion of their tax refunds over the next two years in return for a permanent reduction in the state tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent.Owens has proposed addressing the budget crisis by selling off the state's share of the multibillion-dollar national tobacco settlement to provide about $100 million to help balance the budget this year.He wants to ask voters to give back $500 million each year from their tax surplus refunds to make up for budget cuts of the past two years, with $100 million a year of that money going to transportation. Owens also wants a permanent tax cut.Sen. John Evans, R-Parker, said he doubts there will be an agreement on a plan to make permanent changes to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights because many Republicans believe it is working as intended, limiting the growth of government.He said the only plan that has a good chance of passing this year is one that asks voters to give back a year or two of their tax refund checks. He said that proposal requires only a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote to get on the ballot because it does not change the constitution."The fight over this issue will be to determine if this is temporary or permanent," Evans said.COLORADOAN, 1/13—DEMOCRATS TAKE CHARGE—MATTHEW BENSON Fort Collins Coloradoan Historic changes usher in sessionDENVER - The Democratic Party claimed the keys to the Capitol on a Wednesday morning delayed by snowy conditions that snarled roadways and left some state legislators stuck in traffic. Slow start aside, the 65th General Assembly convened with both parties pledging to put aside their differences and go about the state's work. Democrats narrowly control the state House and Senate, a power play achieved in the November election and made official as 19 new members of the House and seven in the Senate took their oaths of office. Democrats haven't led both chambers since 1961. The atmosphere wasn't exactly funereal for Republicans, though. "I think there's a great feeling of optimism," said Republican Sen. Steve Johnson of Fort Collins. His penchant for working well with Democrats figures to pay off this session. It was a historic day on other counts. Golden Democrat Joan Fitz-Gerald was elected Senate president, becoming the first woman in the state's history to hold that position, as well as the only sitting female Senate president in the country. Denver Democrat Peter Groff, meanwhile, became Senate president pro tem, the highest ranking ever achieved by an African American in the Colorado Senate. Fitz-Gerald described the state as a "sleeping giant," telling her Senate colleagues they "have an opportunity to unleash our tremendous potential and to be a better state than we are." She and House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a Denver Democrat, said they plan to focus on curing the state's budget woes, first and foremost, but also to invest more in education and improve access and affordability of health care. "I see an opportunity to provide a paycheck for every family, a textbook for every child and a doctor for every patient," Fitz-Gerald said. "This is our vision of Colorado." Republicans have their own vision. Senate Minority Leader Mark Hillman, a Burlington Republican, likened the Legislature's role to that of a referee. "We weren't elected to determine the outcome of life for our fellow Coloradoans," he said, "but to make sure everything runs smoothly and otherwise get out of the way. For the next 120 days, we must remember our primary responsibility is to blow the whistle when government gets in the way." Hillman focused on job creation, and said boosting employment goes hand-in-hand with reining in lawsuit abuse, lowering health-care costs, improving education and securing water for the future. Hillman singled out the business personal property tax, which he called "the biggest hindrance to job creation in our state." But leaders from both parties called the budget job No. 1 for the Legislature. A pair of conflicting amendments to the state Constitution - the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, or TABOR, and Amendment 23 - simultaneously limit and mandate spending. Without a change to the current system, the state could slip deeper into budget shortfalls at the same time it's issuing TABOR tax refunds to residents. "We have to put this state on firmer financial footing," Romanoff said. "We know what's broken. What we need is the courage to fix it." Despite the bipartisan atmosphere of opening day, don't expect all to go smoothly. House Minority Leader Joe Stengel was firm in noting that Republicans will oppose attempts to decriminalize drug offenses and will defend their achievements in recent years in terms of increasing school choice. Democrats who seek to "roll back the clock" by stiffening concealed weapons laws also are in for a fight, said the Littleton Republican, warning, "Careless rhetoric from anti-gun elements will not foster a bipartisan atmosphere during the 2005 session." While Democratic Rep. Angie Paccione of Fort Collins was taken aback by what she called Stengel's drawing of "a line in the sand" on certain issues, she said both parties share many common priorities and goals. "We all want high quality education," Paccione said. "We all want good jobs. We all want quality and accessible health care." How the parties plan to achieve those goals will be answered in the next 119 days. COLORADOAN, 1/13—LEGISLATURE GETS GOING ON FIXING FINANCES—MATTHEW BENSON Fort Collins Coloradoan DENVER - Opening day of the state Legislature is a celebration for lawmakers. It's a time for hugs and handshakes between members of opposing parties, pictures with friends and family, bold plans and grand ideas. Consider the Legislature's afternoon budget discussion the wet blanket. Democrats who control the House and Senate called the joint session to get all 100 legislators on the same page when it comes to addressing the state's finances. Led by JBC staff director John Ziegler, it was a two-hour crash course in Budget 101. State finances have been on the fritz since an economic downturn beginning in 2001 hammered tax revenues. Higher education enrollment and increased demand for state services through Medicaid and corrections have compounded the problem, Ziegler told lawmakers. Still looming is the fabled interplay between the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, or TABOR, and Amendment 23. TABOR limits state spending and revenues while Amendment 23 requires annual funding hikes for K-12 education. Lawmakers were unable to agree on a fix for the two measures last session. So Democrats decided to get an earlier start this time around. "As much as anything, this is a statement for us and the general public that this is an issue we'll address from day one rather than leaving it until the last three days of the session," said Sen. Bob Bacon, a Fort Collins Democrat. Sen. Steve Johnson worried the joint session might degrade into a partisan debate of the merits of TABOR and Amendment 23. But the Fort Collins Republican was pleasantly surprised that the reform discussion has gotten off to an early start. "I absolutely think it's very valuable to start this in January instead of May," said Johnson, the sponsor of the last fiscal reform measure to die in the Senate last spring. This year's stakes could hardly be higher. If TABOR and Amendment 23 are unchanged, the budget will continue to increase funding for public schools while other needs - namely higher education - whither. The state has already axed nearly $150 million from its support for public colleges including Colorado State University. In the 1989-90 fiscal year, funding for higher education accounted for 20.3 percent of the state's general fund. For 2005-06, the figure is slated to be 9.9 percent. Cuts in other areas of the budget have eliminated or reduced health and human services such as state assistance for low-income families. Sen. Abel Tapia, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said he worries that state cuts in those areas end up costing the state more through prisons and other needs. "We're really not cutting money," said the Pueblo Democrat. "We're really just transferring the need somewhere else." Both parties are rushing to find a budget fix. Gov. Bill Owens has already issued a five-point plan that would, among other things, decrease the state's income tax rate while asking voters to allow the state to keep an extra $500 million a year in revenue. House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Democrats are pushing a similar plan, but with no revenue cap. Romanoff's plan, however, would limit the size of state government, as a share of the economy, to its 2000 level. FORT MORGAN TIMES, 1/13—LAWMAKERS' CHALLENGES Fort Morgan Times And away we go.The gavel banged down today, the first day of the 120-day session of the Colorado General Assembly that will end in May but keep hundreds of entities and thousands of workers on tenterhooks worrying each day what our lawmakers might wrought.It is nervous time in the halls of justice, both K-12 and higher education, transportation, corrections, Medicaid, health, environment, employment, the economy, water agencies, social services and numerous other areas whose destinies rise and fall on the whims of the lawmakers, the lobbyists who influence them, pressures from special interests, the public in general and the agendas of the two parties.It's an exciting time for the state and its inhabitants, and it's a scary time for them as well, a nail-biting time.The question of the year for this session of the Legislature is whether its members will indeed come to some compromise over the fiscal crisis that has shrouded every move, every step the lawmakers have attempted to take over the last three years. Those steps have taken the state deep into the entanglements of budget slashing, to the tune of $2 billion in cuts that have rippled to every corner of the state.It is not the fault of the legislators that Colorado's economy fell so deeply in the tank and that the state is having almost the worst of times in attempting to climb out. It is not the fault of the legislators that the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and Amendment 23 have locked horns so forcefully that it is difficult, at best, to pull them apart.But a good share of the fault does lie with the legislators that no compromise has been reached over the past two to three years to present to the voters on what steps to take to unlock those horns and escape the mentality of more and more cuts to solve the crisis. There has to be a solution somewhere, and since it wasn't found during the Republicans' watch, it is now in the Democrats' laps to take the lead in achieving it.And there is so much more for our representatives and senators to be concerned with and about for the next 120 days.There is education and the need to bolster, substantially, preparation of our younger generation for college and for the leap into the real world for those who enter the world of work after high school rather than moving on to higher education.There is the economy and the doldrums in which it has been foundering for too long. There is the need for new jobs, but as House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said, before the state can worry about new jobs, it has to fix the roads and a higher education system which have borne the brunt of the budget cuts the past three years.There is water and the best way to promote long-term storage as well as a statewide compact on water use, similar to the compact that regulates states along the Colorado River which is being explored.There is health and the Democrats' health agenda involving registration of immunizations, encouraging schools to fight childhood obesity and establishing a list of drugs it would prefer doctors to use when treating low-income patients.The list is long; the needs are great; the costs are high, and the budget is cut to the bone.The challenges are there, enough to fill many more than 120 days, but meeting the May deadline is a challenge all by itself.And the clock is ticking.