State Senate President Kevin Grantham faces term limits after the next session, but he plays off questions about his political ambitions, assuming he has any.
With the legislative session set to begin Wednesday, he prefers to talk about transportation, fixing state employees’ retirement plans, protecting the energy industry and handing off leadership to another Republican majority in November.
“I’ve got plenty to worry about for the next four months,” he said in an interview at the Waffle Wagon restaurant in Canon City.
And after the session?
“I’ve got four grandkids here in town, so that will keep me plenty busy,” he said.
Until he bangs the gavel in mid-May to close the session, Grantham’s chief concerns are those that face every Coloradan, he said.
Last year, his first as Senate president, Grantham came in ready to make deals. He co-sponsored a bill with Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran that would have asked voters to decide on a sales tax increase for transportation. Ultimately Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee killed the bill, because of the tax hike.
“I think they don’t want to talk about roads,” Grantham said of Democrats. “They want to hold roads hostage for their precious transit. I tried to strike a deal last year that would take care of both. I couldn’t get that across the finish line.
“But we still have to deal with the crisis that is roads right now. I’m still willing to sit down and talk to these folks, but when you have a gift (the expected revenue surplus) all packaged up for ya that is the $100 million, $200 million, whatever, not counting the potential savings coming in from the Washington, D.C., tax cuts and the surplus we might see from that, if it doesn’t happen now under these circumstances, then when?”
He also expects an offense and defense around the energy issue again this session. Energy development promises to be one of the questions candidates will encounter this year. Senate Republicans are siding with the industry, which faces enough regulations, they contend.
Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville, the Democratic caucus leader on environmental issues, is promising bills to give local communities more say-so in regulating future oil and gas wells. Those bills will die before a Republican-led committee, guaranteed.
“We like cars that drive, we like homes that get heated and it’s an important industry for everyone in this state — not just the economy but the practical aspect of what the industry does for us — so the constant barrage of attacks on them will be met with that in mind,” Grantham said.
Republicans will again try to shift the focus of a reauthorized Colorado Energy Office from renewable energy to promote all forms of power equally. A partisan intense debate left the office without funding last session.
“We’ll probably run something similar to what we had last year,” Grantham said.
He has some agreement with John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor. In his budget proposal for next year, Hickenlooper asks state employees to pay more into their pensions to help fill in a shortfall the fund faces over the next 30 years.
The Public Employees Retirement Association wants taxpayers to chip in on the gap, as well.
“I think the governor’s solutions or recommendations are an improvement over what PERA recommended,” Grantham said. “I think at the end of the day if we end up only with the governor’s suggestions, we’re better off.
“We haven’t fixed it, but we’re better off. But you might see some more bold suggestions coming from members of our caucus, but this is all part of the legislative process.”