Colorado's lawmakers finally got a much-needed budget-reform deal done last week thanks in large part to legislators such as our own Jack Taylor and Al White.
The budget deal -- The Colorado Economic Recovery Act -- would amend the Taxpayers Bill of Rights during the next five years to allow the state to keep about $3.1 billion in revenues that otherwise would be returned to taxpayers. The act, which must be approved by voters this fall, would not change TABOR restrictions on spending and tax increases and would offer an income tax break to residents in year six if there is a revenue surplus. The proposal permanently eliminates TABOR's so-called "ratchet effect" that restricts state government's ability to recover from recession.
The deal was outlined Thursday during a press conference at the Capitol featuring legislators from both parties, most notably Republican Gov. Bill Owens and Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. It was an orchestrated show to underscore the bipartisan compromise that was reached.
But it was the legislators in the background -- including Taylor and White -- who deserve just as much credit for the compromise. At the outset of the legislative session, Taylor and White, Republicans, preached a willingness to work with Democrats to get a deal, and they have practiced what they preached. Their work -- along with that of like-minded legislators -- ultimately is what forced the governor and the speaker onto the same page.
As recently as two weeks ago, talks between Romanoff and Owens broke off, with Romanoff vowing to push his proposal through the state House and Owens threatening to put his own plan before voters. Competing plans, everyone knew, would be a recipe for disaster.
White planned to co-sponsor Romanoff's bill, but held off when pressured by his own party. But after negotiations fell apart between Owens and Romanoff, White was among a few Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for Romanoff's bill and get it out of the House. "Partisan politics is sometimes an impediment to good public policy, and I refuse to play that game," White said. "When the negotiations stalled and nothing was moving, it was time to do what needed to be done."
White didn't fully agree with Romanoff's bill, but getting the bill out of the House and into the Senate reignited talks. From the start of the session, Taylor had agreed to work with the speaker and sponsor the legislation in the Senate. Taylor's open-mindedness ensured that when the Senate began tweaking Romanoff's proposal, he was a player in the process.
The vote to get the bill out of the House and the modifications that began in the Senate were key steps in forcing Owens and Romanoff to take another stab at compromise. Democratic Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald helped broker the compromise.
After budget reform collapsed last year amid stubborn partisan squabbles, lawmakers knew that anything short of a bipartisan deal would doom this legislative session to failure. Now, they have a reform plan that the governor, both houses of the legislature and both parties can support. Such support is critical if the plan is to succeed in November.
Since 2001, the state has cut more than $234 million from its budget, and absent reform, legislators will have to cut another $286 million in the next two years. That's not a pretty scenario for the state. Thanks to the pragmatic politics of lawmakers such as Taylor and White, it's a scenario we now have the chance to avoid.