Even in these catastrophic economic times, it’s difficult to imagine the kind of fresh politics it would take to successfully loosen the corseted Colorado budget.
Yet that’s what we were treated to Thursday in Denver.
At roughly 11 a.m. Thursday, Sen. John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Rep. Don Marostica (R-Loveland) introduced legislation (H.B. 228) to eliminate a provision that strips out excess revenues from the state’s General Fund and requires it to be spent, essentially, on transportation projects, leaving lawmakers no choice but to cut other essential services, including education and health care. Critics of the provision, known as Arveschoug-Bird, say it ties the hands of lawmakers without regard to the needs of constituents, a situation exacerbated by plunging state accounts.
Predictably, traditional anti-tax Republicans have already been working behind the scenes to kill the bill, exerting political pressure in the Capitol and taking a short-barreled shotgun approach in the arguments against it, arguing online and in person that the new legislation is an irresponsible move toward “big-government”-style uncontrolled spending, that we need more tax money for transportation anyway, and that the state constitution probably forbids the kind of change Morse and Marostica are proposing.
Republican Marostica is the target of most of the heat. Assistant Minority Leader Greg Brophy and Sen. Ted Harvey (Highlands Ranch) were tweeting anti-Marostica messages yesterday to their online followers.
As those two were leading the Twitter charge, Marostica was reportedly forced to meet with state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams, who asked Marostica to apologize for saying that some of the big-name Republicans who opposed the bill, including Independence Institute President Jon Caldara and former Senate President John Andrews, were “has-beens” and “losers.”
Yet Marostica appears notably unfazed. In fact, he looks like he was born to play this role. White-haired, ruddy, straight-backed, wide-faced with an even expression, he seemed the picture of conviction behind the podium at the Capitol.
“I’m likely to be called to the principal’s office soon,” he joked as he opened his remarks.
He said it took him all of about a minute to agree to back the bill when Morse approached him. He said he had looked at reports about the budget and this provision, and it was clear to him what needed to be done. “It’s just math,” he said. “I looked at this issue and said, ‘This is crazy. It just doesn’t work. It has to be changed.'”
Morostica and Morse are perhaps just the two to do it, too. It’s not just that they are a bipartisan match. Their constituents and backgrounds bolster the perceived seriousness of their stance. Morse represents Colorado Springs, not your typical big government district, and Marostica is a fiscal conservative with a winning track record as a businessman. Although everything is politics, this looks like something else, especially against the backdrop of the hackneyed Republican attack lines emerging to put an end to it, whatever it is.
Fondling a borrowed, bound copy of the state constitution, Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, expounded at the end of the conference on something like the need to hew to an ideal about fiscal responsibility solemnly agreed upon with the voters. He said this new legislation would take us down the wrong road.
Asked by The Colorado Independent if he thought Marostica would face retaliation from the Republican caucus, Mitchell paused for a long time, his hand to his chin.
“Well that’s always a possibility… if someone fails to legitimately represent —”
“Represent who, the [Republican] caucus or the people of the district?”
“Well, his district.”
“So then what does retaliation look like?”
“Well, the primary vote …” said Mitchell. But he seemed unsure.
Earlier responding to reporters eager to get a rise out of him, Marostica wouldn’t be drawn into discussions about party discipline or the kinds of punishments he was likely to suffer for introducing Bill 228.
“I’ve had a full life. There’s a lot of other things I’d like to do,” he said.