Sit down with Senate leaders
Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, stopped in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday as part of a statewide "listening tour" designed to help the legislative leaders prepare for the Colorado General Assembly's 2010 session.
Steamboat Springs Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, stopped in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday as part of a statewide "listening tour" designed to help the legislative leaders prepare for the Colorado General Assembly's 2010 session.
The two said forest health and wildfire concerns are top issues on the minds of Northwest Colorado residents. They spent the morning in the Routt National Forest helping a Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew that is removing trees killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic sweeping the North American West.
Morse said the issue is an example of one the two Front Range legislators don't always hear about back home. Educating themselves about the issues across the state is the primary goal of the tour, which includes stops in all corners of Colorado.
"We think it's important that, as the leadership, we need to have a broader view than just our district," Morse said. "The two of us are going to fight battles differently after this tour."
Shaffer said health care, economic development and education will be the Democratic majority's top three priorities in the state Legislature this year. He said the statewide tour will help shape the legislation built under each of those categories. Shaffer and Morse also acknowledged that the state's budgetary woes also will command a large amount of their attention.
Morse said the state's latest financial projections show that $900 million needs to be cut from the general fund budget. Morse said that's the equivalent to closing one out of five public schools in the state or eliminating the state prison system.
"That's the order of magnitude of what we're talking about," Morse said.
The first round of cuts, totaling $400 million, will be made by Gov. Bill Ritter and will take effect in September. Shaffer said Ritter will present his suggested cuts to the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee next week. The state Legislature will address the next $500 million in state cuts during the 2010 legislative session.
The pain will be spread statewide and could include cuts to programs important to Northwest Colorado such as the money the state spends marketing itself to tourists. That spending was cut from $20 million to $15 million during this year's legislative session. There also could be more transfers from federal mineral lease and severance tax revenues that otherwise would have been allocated to local governments in areas where the oil and gas industries operate.
"If we can somehow just get up this mountain and around the curve, we'll be OK," Morse said. "We know the top three things in the Senate are budget, budget, budget. But what are the next two? How do we use what little money we do have strategically on what's really important?"