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Budgets, ballots: ‘Inside voices, please’

When my kids were little, I learned a new phrase from others who worked daily with children. It was “use inside voices, please.”

Ironically, the message often had to be shouted to be heard above the noise of excited and jostling children. It worked.

A part of my column last week was a plea for something similar and, while I apologize for startling anyone, I appreciate those who got the message and said so in their emails this past week. We have much to work through in these tough times and civility begins at home and in our communities. Our political discourse at the Capitol is as often framed by the emotions and language of our constituents as the other way around, so every little bit helps.

So far, the Legislature has done well with the stress, but nerves will become more frayed as we enter deeper into the budget cutting swamp and as more contentious bills are debated. Governor Hickenlooper’s about to fully engage in the budget discussion and I welcome his input and strategies that he’ll put forth to the legislature.

In Colorado, the governor’s budget proposal is very important, but in the end, his input is just that. The final responsibility for arriving at next year’s budget is the task of the Legislature, largely framed by the work of the joint budget committee.

My first bill was heard and killed in committee. This bill would’ve prohibited the backfilling of budget gaps with severance taxes that, since 1977, have been paid by companies to mitigate local impacts of energy development as well as to fund adequate water storage projects and higher education.

I’m disappointed that the bill didn’t pass its first committee because raiding these cash funds causes many real and significant problems. Yet, the debate around the bill was worthwhile and was the prelude to the Senate floor discussion of the budget bill that swiped these funds for the current year.

Despite how headlines read, policymaking is not like winning a sporting event. In sports, things are pretty black and white — you win or you lose. In politics, sometimes, it’s the journey that matters most.

Taking legislators through the thought process of what it means to strip away the funding for basic infrastructure, whether it’s for rural roads, sewage treatment plants, reservoirs or higher education, can be a win, even if the goal of stopping the raiding of the cash funds wasn’t reached. Challenging the status quo can be accomplishing a lot.

This week, the Senate will be hearing a bipartisan bill on ballot initiative reform. If passed by a 2/3rd vote of the whole Legislature, it’ll go to a vote of the people before becoming law. I support this bill, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, (SCR 1), as it preserves the citizen initiative process while raising the bar for changing our state constitution. As with many issues this session, there’ll be strong opinions on both sides, so here’s a gentle reminder to use inside voices, please.

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