Legislative report: We’re off and running!

In Colorado, the elections are over! November 3 brought few surprises. Several House members were elected to the Senate, while brand new faces in the Capitol will number 16. Most incumbents held onto their seats, although some by razor thin margins. Dems hold a 20-15 majority in the Senate (up from 19-16) and the House will remain at a 41-24 Democrat majority having lost one seat and gained one. Colorado’s General Assembly will look like the 2020 session, including Leadership in the respective caucuses. In the Senate, President Leroy Garcia and Minority Leader Chris Holbert were re-elected by their peers to those positions for the coming session. House Majority Leader Alec Garnett moved into the Speaker’s role, with the previous Speaker KC Becker term limited. JBC Chair Daneya Esgar will become the new Majority Leader, with her JBC seat filled by Rep. Leslie Herod. Reps. Julie McCluskie and Kim Ransom are the other House JBC members. The House Minority caucus took on a different flavor with the previous announcement by Minority Leader Patrick Neville that he would not seek that position for 2021. House Republicans on November 9 selected Loveland Representative Hugh McKean as their new leader with Rep. Tim Geitner of Colorado Springs serving as Assistant Minority Leader. Orientation for the new legislators began November 6.

Statewide ballot measures all passed except the ban on abortions at 22 weeks. Voters put one foot on the fiscal gas pedal and the other on the brake with the passage two revenue raising measures and two limiting revenues. Proposition EE increases tobacco and nicotine taxes and Amendment B repeals the Gallagher amendment which stops the automatic decrease in residential property taxes, while Proposition 116 reduces income taxes, albeit modestly, and Proposition 117 requires a vote for new Enterprises that would raise $100 million from fee revenues in the first five years.

Although the legislature does not convene until January 13, the JBC returns to work on November 11 to organize for the coming year. It begins by hearing the Governor’s Budget Request on November 12. Once again, the combination of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the precipitous drop in oil prices leaves the state scrambling to fund its many programs. The Budget request for FY 21-22 is $35 billion, with $13.6 billion coming from the General Fund. In addition to money from taxes and fees, a large percentage of the budget is derived from federal funds dedicated to specific programs. The creative financing seen at the end of the 2020 legislative session will continue as revenues decline and demand for support services such as Medicaid and Unemployment increase. The budget will remain a key driver of legislative initiatives in the coming year and will be a continuing part of CMA’s focus.