NOONAN | Record of outgoing legislative leadership: incremental change

Author: Paula Noonan - May 21, 2018 - Updated: May 21, 2018

Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

The opening of the 2011 General Assembly marked the first year of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration.  It was the year that Kevin Grantham, Senate president, and Crisanta Duran, House speaker, started their eight years in the Senate and House.

Other prominent leaders in that elected class include Sen. Lucia Guzman, Senate minority leader; Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, chair of the Joint Budget Committee; and Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, 2018 vice chair of the Joint Budget Committee.

Since these elected officials are term-limited and a new administration will begin the 2019 General Assembly, it’s time to review the eight-year results of their work to assess what was accomplished and what should be asked of the next four-to-eight year crew.

The 2011 session offers a preview of the 2018 assembly.  Every major issue of 2011 was still in play in 2018. The general outcome is incremental change with the exception of health care and marijuana implementation.

Transportation:  The 2011 legislature asked for recommendations to improve I-70 traffic.  Since then toll lanes were added to the mountain section. The 2018 legislature passed SB-001 to provide $495 million in July for various projects and another $150 million to local governments in 2019. The state can get more money if citizens pass initiatives for additional revenue to pay off $1.5 billion in bonds.

The Department of Transportation has many large projects in mind, but not enough money.  As of now, California here we come.

Education:  School finance was on its way to the dumper in 2011 given the Great Recession. The 2011 school finance bill continued school district budget cutting. Added dollars to save PERA and lower tax revenue put the state into a $1 billion school funding hole called the negative factor. An initiative in 2013 to add $1 billion to public school finance, led by state Sen. Michael Johnston who’s now running for governor, failed.  The 2018 school finance bill managed to reduce the $1 billion to $850 million in a now-thriving state economy.  But most educator salary increases will go straight to the state’s pension plan.

Full funding for kindergarten hasn’t happened. An additional 3,000 seats were added in 2018.  Bills to provide more money for rural educators and programs to attract more educators to rural communities have mostly died.

Health care:  The governor’s administration strongly committed to the Affordable Care Act, thus increasing insurance coverage for many Coloradans. Colorado’s health care exchange has survived attempts to shut it down so overall insurance coverage has substantially improved.

PERA:  This year’s PERA bill is a re-do of the 2010 legislation to stabilize the state pension fund.  The legislation sends more money into the pension but puts more pressure on school finance because districts and employees have to find dollars out of their budgets to support PERA.

Tax reform:  Nothing significant has happened on tax reform in the governor’s administration.  Additional revenue from the booming economy and marijuana has produced more dollars. The argument against reform is that citizens won’t support higher taxes.  That hasn’t been tested on the ballot except in 2013 with a flawed education finance initiative.  Douglas Bruce ran his Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights three times before it passed.  Significant funding changes to education and transportation will be difficult without tax reform.

So the eight-year period from 2011 to 2018 has seen a slow economy turn into a humming economy and the state’s health care delivery improve.  But many elephants at the statehouse in 2011 remain in 2018.  These issues need vision from office seekers. Let the next few months show what candidates see.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.