By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Repealing the so-called “dirty dozen” and blocking any fee increase will be priorities for Republican lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session, according to the head of the Colorado Republican Party.
Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams is still upset with Gov. Bill Ritter for repealing or eliminating a series of tax credits and exemptions — termed the “dirty dozen” by GOP lawmakers — for Colorado businesses last legislative session. Wadhams also disagrees with Ritter’s decision to raise fees, most notably for people registering their vehicles, while trying to balance the budget. A fee increase does not require a vote of the people under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
When the 2011 legislative session starts next month, Republicans will control the Colorado House and have a greater presence in the Senate. Wadhams is optimistic that the increased GOP presence will put a stop to any fee increase or elimination of a tax break.
“Democrats will instinctively want to raise taxes without a vote of the people, while Republicans will always seek to reduce spending as opposed to raising taxes,” Wadhams said. “I think that’s going to be the dominant debate throughout the session.”
Meanwhile, outgoing Colorado Democrat Party Chair Pat Waak said Wadhams should avoid making snide comments unless he has a “magic wand” to use to help balance the budget. When asked for suggestions on possible budget balancing solutions, Wadhams deferred to leading Republican lawmakers.
Political pundit and Denver Daily News columnist Aaron Harber doesn’t expect lawmakers to reverse any of the tax exemptions. Ritter and lawmakers have cut spending, reduced costs and closed shortfalls of more than $5.2 billion since 2008, and eliminating any current revenue sources would put lawmakers “between a rock and a hard place” when trying to balance the budget, according to Harber.
“I think (Gov.-elect) Hickenlooper would like to see some, if not all, of those (dirty dozen) repeals, but he and the Joint Budget Committee and the General Assembly simply don’t have the luxury of excess revenue pouring in to be able to do that,” said Harber. “You might see at best one or two of those repealed on a token basis, ones that don’t have a significant revenue impact, but I’d be more willing to bet that none are repealed because you are actually running into a tougher budget.”
Harber expects a greater level of bipartisanship and cooperation between Republican and Democrat lawmakers in the upcoming session than many people predict. He believes the veteran leadership like Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, and Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, will understand the challenges that the state and general assembly face and act accordingly.
Harber added that Hickenlooper’s business background, likeability and overall success running Denver should likely help foster bipartisanship.
“He has a history of bringing Republicans and Democrats together,” said Harber.
For his part, Wadhams is also hopeful that lawmakers will work together and that Hickenlooper will lead in a bipartisan fashion.
“I think Governor Hickenlooper is going to be torn between his instincts as a business man and the inclinations of the left wing of his party that I think dominates the Democrat party in the legislature,” he said. “I think he has the opportunity to work with Republicans on common sense, pro-job legislation. I’m not sure which inclination will win out.”
Waak, who is not running for re-election to her current post, suggested that lawmakers look back on the bills where they came together last legislative session and copy that format when it’s in the best interest of lawmakers’ constituents.
Hickenlooper has promised to try to bridge the divide between Democrats and Republicans and has appointed several prominent GOP members, including former-Gov. Bill Owens to his transition team. The 2011 legislative session starts Jan. 13, 2011.