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We’ll get through it together

One month until the start of the legislative session in January and all I can say for sure is that there will be a lot of tense times ahead, given the budget cuts to be made still. I’ve got a sense of déjà vu from a year ago.

As a member of the House Finance Committee, I was called to Denver for two Joint Finance Committee meetings in November. We discussed the general budget shortfall as well as the PERA dilemma. We can’t take any action until the full Legislature reconvenes in January, but, it was good, in an educational sense, to get a preview of what’s ahead.

With unemployment where it’s at in Colorado and the unemployment insurance trust fund in deep trouble, many questions arise about how the state will pay for existing obligations. We also have the challenge of the huge shortfall in the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which is the state’s pension fund, and must act soon for the fund to stay afloat for all retirees, current and future.

I’m pleased that serious research and consideration is being given to what tax credits and exemptions exist in Colorado before we head into the next session just cutting what is politically attractive to those with the most votes. That was my major complaint last session was that we were not first considering the big picture, such as the history, size and impact of all of the various credits and exemptions.

It’s not realistic to leave tax credits and exemptions untouched when every other area is subject to being reduced. However, we need to be especially careful that we don’t cause heightened harm to Colorado businesses that produce much of our revenue and are already experiencing very difficult times.

Despite all of the dire news, I’m looking forward to getting up to Denver in January to roll up my sleeves and tend to that part of my job. The primary, if not only, focus this year should be to concentrate our efforts on stabilizing Colorado’s economy. We do that by judiciously addressing first the budget shortfall for the current year and then for 2010-2011. Job retention and new job growth will also be critical to our economic recovery.

I have no illusions that the upcoming year will be free of politics. I just hope that we can keep that at bay as much as possible in a session when we should go with the best ideas offered, no matter which party the bill sponsor is from. This is especially not a time for politics to trump good policymaking.

On other fronts, I’ve been developing my five bills for next session. Some ideas that I mentioned earlier in the fall haven’t been able to move forward and others have filled into those slots. My legislative plate is full and mostly with bills that focus on cost containment in state government.

I’m pleased that my legislative office team for January is in place. James Stout, just graduated from CSU and my intern last year, will be my aide, and Mary Inglis, a Fort Lewis College student, will be my intern. They’ll be a terrific help with the constituent services work, which is almost impossible to keep up with no staff when we’re not in session.

No home is untouched by these difficult times. With two kids attending Fort Lewis College, I know the concern about rising college tuition bills. With a spouse who is a builder, I know what the construction and real estate markets in southwest Colorado aren’t doing. It’s important that you know that, as your state legislator, I live right here with you most of the year and know what you’re dealing with. Times are tough, but we’ll pull together and get through it. Southwest Colorado has a history of doing that and there’s no reason to expect differently this time.