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Watching the capitol soap op

One of my grandmothers regularly watched soap operas and what fascinated me most was how well she knew who was about to do what to whom.

At the Capitol, we’ve got a gripping plot that Nana would appreciate — personal ambitions, jealousies, allegations of backstabbing and fights during dinner negotiations amid dramatic financial woes. Could screenwriters ask for anything more?

The state Legislature’s grappling with a budget shortfall of huge proportions. The six-member Joint Budget Committee has been working on this challenge since late last fall.

But, this year, because of the split control of the Legislature, the JBC is also split in control, with half from each party. This political situation lends itself to more debate and open disagreement than has been seen in recent times as different political and fiscal philosophies and personalities clash to arrive at the necessarily mutual destination — a balanced budget.

Most Coloradans also know that we must have a balanced budget each year, which means expenses need to match our state’s income, or so we say.

I add the “so we say” because a couple of my bills asked the Legislature to own up to its propensity to backfill budget holes by ignoring current law requiring we distribute certain severance tax funds to local governments, water projects and funding higher education. Both bills were unfortunately killed in the first Senate committee hearings. This isn’t a partisan issue as failure to address our nasty habit of taking this money affects all Coloradans, regardless of party or home address.

Another effort of mine this session aimed as a reality check in our budgeting process is a resolution restating our current prohibition of passing laws with unfunded mandates to local governments. The resolution also has a respectful, but pointed, message to Congress to stop sending unfunded mandates to the state governments.

Resolutions are not new laws, but potentially have the impact of causing the Legislature to collectively pause for a moment and think about our situation. With any luck, we internalize these notes to ourselves and send them off to Washington, D.C., intending someone there might bother to read them, pause and rethink their course of action.

Unfortunately, the Senate president had the resolution placed on the calendar back in January, shortly after we started the session and it hasn’t moved past its first committee hearing, despite having passed unanimously with bipartisan support. Without any debate on the Senate floor, the resolution will not advance to the House and certainly not in time to be considered in the current budget discussions.

What’s odd about this treatment by partisan leadership is that the resolution reinforces Democratic Gov. Hickenlooper’s executive order pledging that the same philosophy is to be applied in the state agencies.

At times, the Capitol seems like another world, with secret storms brewing, as the young and the restless search for tomorrow. With but one life to live, perhaps we can move past the soap operas and get on with the hard work to be done.

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