With a prayer from Archbishop Charles Chaput that called for legislators to consider the future of both the born and unborn in their decision making, Republicans officially took control of the Colorado House of Representatives as the Colorado General Assembly opened for business Wednesday. While both Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, called for bi-partisan cooperation, conflicts in ideology began to emerge in calls for spending caps, government cuts and even in the names of committees.
“We must and we will adhere to our core principles and to the will of the people of Colorado,” McNulty said addressing the House. “Along with tax relief and regulation reform, we are committed to reinstituting a state spending limit to protect future generations from government spending excesses. If we have learned anything from the past few years it is that excessive governmental spending prolongs economic recessions–it does not shorten them.”
With Republicans standing in response to McNulty’s comments and Democrats giving half-hearted applause, McNulty continued, “We are committed to the quality and efficiency in health care by utilizing free markets that will allow Coloradans to make their own health decisions. We are committed to a strong and well funded K-12 education program. We are committed to our colleges and universities that will prepare graduates to compete in a 21st Century economy.”
McNulty said that in the face of a budget gap of more than $1 billion this session, government would be forced to tighten its belt. “If we refuse to make the tough choices now, the same choices will become more difficult for Colorado to bear further on down the road.”
“My thanks for keeping the podium warm for the next two years,” Pace joked with McNulty as he began his opening remarks. He agreed with McNulty’s commitment to K-12 education and said he was looking for reform as well as critical funding.
However, Pace’s speech highlighted key ideological differences likely to keep the legislature in gridlock this year.
Pace said that every dollar given out as tax breaks to special interests and corporations translate into larger class sizes for “our children’s schools, reduced services for the elderly and greater hardship for those who are physically and economically disadvantaged.”
Pace said that failing to fund governmental services will result in busier emergency rooms, overcrowded prisons, higher-dropout rates, higher crime rates and higher unemployment. “In short, if we invest just a little up front we will save a lot down the road,” Pace said.
“State government is not a solution for all problems… But to neglect services or slash programs without method, to penalize state workers and teachers to score political points, to demonize people because of their skin color or national origins and to balance our budget on the backs of the poor, the elderly and the back of the young. These are not acceptable solutions to the people of Colorado and they should not be acceptable to any of us,” Pace said.
Pace said that Democrats would be rolling out pay-as-you-go legislation and a Colorado business support program, which will provide resources, counseling and access to credit to help mid-size companies grow in Colorado.
While both minority leader and speaker spoke of bi-partisan partnership, the snickers of the peanut gallery of lobbyists seemed quickly confirmed when Democrats challenged name changes to House committees. Democrats sought explanation on name changes that excluded the terms labor, energy and human services from what were the business affairs and labor committee, transportation and energy committee and health and human services committee.
“For the sake of the economy in Colorado we need to have good businesses. We also need to have good labor relations. It is a symbiotic relationship, your business and labor,” Rep. John Soper, D-Littleton, said. “[I] just [need] to seek a little enlightenment as to why labor is not even worthy to be mentioned in a committee when we have a state department of labor.”
House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said they were changed as a matter of expediency and efficiency and repeated nearly the same phrase to each representative who stood for clarification to name changes.
“As we have done in the past we have changed the names of committees. We will do so this session. I would suggest that our work here today is to do the will of the people and get jobs and the economy moving ahead. And I would suggest that we quickly get to the work of the House,” Stephens said.
The redundancy left Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, to state when he rose to the podium, “I assume the response will not be much different. However, health and human services is now changed to health and environment.”
While Pace said tradition called for a yes vote from the minority, a lone no coming from the Democratic side of the aisle foretells a legislative session that likely will see ideological frictions ignite as the Republican led House battles both Democrats within its walls and the Democratic Senate and governor.