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Colo. legislative leaders size up accomplishments, stress

Author: Joey Bunch - May 10, 2018 - Updated: May 11, 2018

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House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock talks about how party could have run the legislative session better. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

The morning after the four-month Colorado legislative session adjourned, Democratic and Republican leaders lauded their achievements Thursday, noting the stress brought on by controversy and conflict.

The General Assembly put billions into transportation, shored up the public employees’ pension plan, reauthorized the state’s civil rights watchdog agency and tweaked how and where beer is sold. And for much of the session they struggled mightily with the sexual harassment issue, expelling the first member in more than century and casting aspersions on the rival party’s motives.

“I think this session was just overcome with emotion, in general,” said House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, citing issues beyond the March 2 expulsion of Rep. Steve Lebsock.

All of the statehouse leaders who assessed the General Assembly’s session spoke of cooperation, disappointment and, ultimately, production Thursday.

“Obviously, the Republicans would have done a lot more,” Neville assured reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, talks about the bipartisan successes of the legislative session. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Senate Democratic leadership did not meet with reporters, and instead issued a statement from Minority Leader Leroy Garcia of Pueblo.

“I’m enormously proud of the work our caucus has done this session,” he stated. “We’ve secured major investments in transportation, education, and healthcare. We’ve taken crucial steps to combat the opioid crisis. We protected our Civil Rights Division. And we’ve helped Colorado lead the nation once again by advancing a bipartisan effort to end gerrymandering and ensure fair representation for all Coloradans.

“Our focus now turns to the interim — time we’ll use to meet with constituents, serve on interim committees, and prepare for what’s to come in 2019 and beyond.”

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, reminisced about Republican priorities on “day one” of the session: Fund transportation without a tax hike, address the imperiled Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association pension system, improve rural broadband internet and reauthorize the state Energy Office with a mission includes drilling and mining.

“Some of these things weren’t all the wins we were looking for, but wins nonetheless, and accomplishments we were able to get done,” he said. “It’s the train we’ve been driving since day one.”

He said Republicans are “understandably pleased with ourselves.”

Like House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, Grantham is term-limited, so both are leaving the legislature.

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House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, talks to reporters about the session that ended at midnight Wednesday. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Duran spoke of the struggles and progress on the sexual harassment issue.

“We rose above ugly politics to be able to do what was right for the people of our state,” she said.

She added, “It’s been an intense session from the very beginning and through the end.”

Duran was one of the Democrats who refused to support the PERA compromise. She said she did not think it was necessary to ask current workers to pay 2 percent more from their paychecks, with the state budget contributing $225 million to the fund facing a $32 billion shortfall over the next 30 years.

Asked if she bowed to the Colorado Education Association, the union for public school teachers that opposed the final compromise, Duran said, “Not at all.”

“To me it was really about the policy, more than anything else,” she said.

Grantham said fixing PERA has been an ongoing issue and will continue to be.

“It’s no secret our caucus has been sounding the alarm since the first day I stepped in here,” he said of the past eight years ago.

Grantham and Gov. John Hickenlooper said the PERA fix was as balanced an approach as possible and should be the envy or other states trying to shore up their public employees’ pension.

“We have to politically be willing to take some pain on the employer and employee sides,” Grantham said. “And $225 million on the employers’ side is a pretty significant amount of pain, so the employee side still needs to look at some additional input, as well.”

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, pointed out that the $225 million is not from new taxes or fees, but from finding money already in the budget.

“They’re not paying more,” he said of taxpayers. “We’re just allocating it differently.”

The final transportation bill — which will contribute $645 million from the state budget over the next two years, then borrow $2.33 billion — included items House Democrats earlier had resisted, including issuing bonds.

Duran said she had not opposed bonding, but rather opposed obligating too much of the budget to the annual payments. In lean economic times, that could have put schools and other government operations at risk for deep cuts.

Senate Republicans had wanted $250 million annually from the state budget. The final deal will put about $122.6 million a year into transportation, after the first two years. Only about $50 million of that, however, is new money, The rest is moved from elsewhere in the transportation budget.

Hickenlooper told reporters he wished it could have been more.

“You can’t have a vibrant economy without making infrastructure investments,” the governor said.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wraps up the legislative session with his insights. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.