As we near the end of the year, many people are busy preparing for the holidays and look forward to spending time with friends and family.
For Colorado state legislators, though, it’s also the time to prepare for a different kind of busy activity and that’s the beginning of a new legislative session in mid-January.
Although I’m not a first-time legislator after serving four years in the Colorado House, as a new Senator, I was invited to participate in three phases of new member orientation in Denver that occupied much of the month of November. I learned that the rules and procedures are a little different between the state house and senate, but after going through the orientation sessions, what stands out for me is how much information new legislators are exposed to when they are first sworn in to office. I found that attending the sessions was partly like going to a refresher course, but, without a doubt, I was also truly absorbing some of the information for the first time.
Attending the orientation also gave me an opportunity to meet and get to know other newly elected legislators from across the state and because much of political progress is based as much on the relationships forged under the Capitol dome as based on common policy goals, it was time well spent.
I’ve received my Senate committee assignments for this next year and they include serving on the committee on Health and Human Services as well as the Legislative Legal Services committee. These are committees and policy areas I’m already familiar with as I served on these committees in the House.
What’s new for me is that I’m also to serve on the Local Government and Energy committee, as the ranking Republican member. There’ll be a lot of work on these committees over the next couple of years and then there’s the main preoccupation of all legislators and that’s the state budget.
During the last phase of orientation, we were asked to simulate a budget cutting meeting where we took on the role of the Joint Budget committee in preparing proposals of what to cut out of the state’s budget given the anticipated $1.1 billion shortfall that we face in preparing next year’s budget. These cuts will be in addition to the $260-300 million that must be cut from the current year’s budget since Colorado hasn’t received as much revenue as needed for the budget passed last session.
This exercise was the most impactful of the entire orientation and very relevant training for all who went through it. And, it’s no different than what many Colorado families and businesses have already been through in terms of having to reduce spending and getting through this difficult time we all face.
Come January, however, we won’t be practicing any more. We’ll be doing the cuts for real. In the meantime, I continue to meet with and hear from constituents, local governments, agencies and non-profits about their concerns about such reduced budgets. State government will indeed become leaner over the next couple of years.
With Colorado’s constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, there’s no choice but to only spend what we take in and, for many, that’s welcome news. However, one of my biggest challenges and concerns is that the rural areas don’t suffer disproportionately because we have considerably fewer votes to cast from our areas. With the concentration of Colorado’s population on the Front Range corridor, it’ll take a lot of education and persuasion from the Western Slope and Eastern Plains legislators to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Despite the difficult times ahead at the state Legislature, I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve the region of southwest Colorado. We have much to be thankful for in our special and beautiful corner of Colorado. I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season.