Steamboat Springs You can't accuse Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff of suffering from senioritis.
Over breakfast Sunday - after speaking with Routt County Democrats at their Jefferson/Jackson Dinner on Saturday night and before further engagements later that day - Romanoff laid out many goals for the next month, the last for this year's General Assembly, and Romanoff's last as a representative. The Denver Democrat is term-limited after eight years in the state House.
"I'm trying to get a lot done in the last 30 days," Romanoff said, "and then I'll try to get a real job soon."
Romanoff spoke glowingly about that most basic of legislative tasks: the adoption of a budget. The Joint Budget Committee is currently reviewing Colorado's $17.6 billion budget for next year after different versions were passed in the House and Senate. Romanoff said the budget includes measures that will shorten the waiting list for those seeking developmental disability services.
"It's about 4,000 people on the waiting list," Romanoff said. "We knocked about a quarter off."
The budget also will provide health insurance for more children, Romanoff said.
"Fifty-thousand kids get health insurance before the decade is done thanks to this budget, which is about a third of the uninsured kids in the state," he said.
The budget also addresses the state's crisis in higher education funding with a $53 million allocation and a 10.6 percent increase in financial aid and work-study funding.
"Higher ed is considered an optional item in the budget, believe it or not," Romanoff said. "When times are tough : higher ed is the biggest thing on the chopping block."
Romanoff considers that a counterproductive strategy, touting higher education as the single best economic development engine. Romanoff noted that companies considering a move to Colorado would first look to the skill of the work force. He also said the number of Coloradans choosing to go to college may increase because of market conditions.
"When you hit a recession, which we may already be sliding into, the demand on these state services rises," Romanoff said. "People who can't find jobs go to school. : When you slash higher ed, you're really undermining your own economy."
Romanoff said he expects health care and higher education to remain big issues for the Legislature in the last weeks of this session, which ends May 7.
"You'll see a lot of debate around health care reform," Romanoff said.
Some legislators, including Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, have expressed skepticism that any comprehensive health care reform can be accomplished because of the cost. Romanoff downplayed that concern Sunday. He said the proposals he supports are aimed at reducing the cost of health care for residents through such regulations as requiring hospitals to keep electronic, rather than paper, records.
"We're actually trying to find a way to address the cost drivers," Romanoff said. "The problem is not that we're spending too little on health care. We're just not spending it wisely."
As for higher education, a proposal that would devote some of the state's share of federal mineral lease revenues to a higher education trust fund still is being considered. Western Slope officials have been skittish all year of proposals that would see mineral revenues used for anything except mitigating the local impacts of energy development. Romanoff noted that concern, but said he thinks Western Slope officials can support the proposal because it will contain provisions to "make impacted communities whole" before diverting the revenues elsewhere.
"I think that should be our first priority," Romanoff said. "We're trying to craft a proposal that would protect these communities and create a trust fund for higher education."
The state's transportation system is another area facing what many consider a financial crisis. The Colorado Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel estimates a $155 million funding gap by 2030 if no new sources of revenue are established. Romanoff said a proposal to toll a portion of Interstate 70 west of Denver would be a "tough sell" and that he is currently counting votes to see if there is enough support for other proposals such as increasing car rental fees. Romanoff said he likes that idea because it taxes mostly visitors rather than Colorado residents but that it could be risky because "you don't want to hurt your tourism industry, which is just about the best revenue source we've got."
Romanoff also hopes to make progress on a personal passion in the Legislature's last month with a bill aimed at curtailing child abuse.
"Colorado has an unacceptable rate of child abuse, neglect and death," Romanoff said. "What we're trying to do is figure out how to break the cycle."
Romanoff predicted health care and transportation would remain at the top of state legislators' agendas next year. He also predicted water policy will be a focus.
"We need a more sustainable solution," Romanoff said. "It's just not realistic to expect growth to continue at its current rate without a sustainable water supply. I don't support ravaging the Western Slope just to slake our thirst on the Front Range."
As for his personal agenda after this legislative session, Romanoff was not specific about his plans. The bachelor noted that he only has one other mouth to feed - that of his dog - and therefore doesn't need a lot of money. There has been speculation about Romanoff being appointed Secretary of State or running for governor or Congress. Romanoff did not address those possibilities but did express a desire to stay in politics.
"If I can figure out a way to keep doing what I do," he said, "I would."