DENVER– A Colorado youth symphony played the national anthem to open the Colorado Senate this morning, the gavel bang marking the start of a legislative session that will be characterized by extraordinary wrangling over the recession-constrained budget in a heated election year.
Speaking before the Senate, state Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, lightheartedly highlighted the difference between the General Assembly’s refined upper chamber of myth and the equally mythic hard-scrabble House of Representatives on the other side of the building.
“We always thought the Senate was just fiddling around,” he said.
Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, called for bipartisan cooperation.
“Every day Colorado families and small businesses grapple with the effects of the recession… The gravity of our circumstances demands unity of purpose. This session is not about platitudes. It is about getting the job done.”
Shaffer said Democratic lawmakers planned to create job-retraining accounts that included tax benefits; consolidating loan programs for health-care professionals who serve rural communities; and increased renewable energy standards to encourage investment in technologies and efficiency. He also noted that he and Sen. Minority leader Josh Penry, R-Fruita, would be moving forward on their plan to overhaul the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) plan.
Penry made light of his his recent run for governor.
“At least I got that out of my system before the new year.”
Penry said many Republicans would like to see the PERA plan transitioned into a 401k program, comparing the bold idea to what he saw as the bold desire of many Democrats to continue to support cost of living increases to current retirees.
“Given these strange-bedfellow dynamics, you don’t have to be a statistician to understand that PERA reform could fail in this General Assembly… We can not let that happen.”
Penry outlined his agenda for what House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, referred to this week as the “Epic [legislative] session.”
Penry opposes some of the budget fixes proposed by Democrats, for example, including the elimination of tax-incentivized enterprise zones and sales tax exemptions for energy used for manufacturing. He said it was time to give higher education boards of governors more power to run their universities. And he called for a voter-referendum that would make it more difficult to change the state Constitution.
It was a couple hours into the day and the sound of the youth symphony strings had already long faded.