Colorado Legislators Spell Out 2001 Priorities

DENVER -- Majority Republicans in the Colorado House of Representatives want to attack the problems of growth, education and transportation, in that order, when the 2001 Legislature convenes Jan. 10. Majority Democrats in the state Senate would like to put transportation at the top of the list, with educational improvement and attacking crime next in line.

It is the first time in 40 years that the Senate has been dominated by Democrats after several stunning upsets in the Nov. 7 election.

"I've always liked the idea of rotation in office," said Sen. John Anderson, new minority leader-elect from Arapahoe County, "but I liked it better in theory."

Anderson, Speaker-elect Doug Dean of Colorado Springs and Sen. Stan Matsunaka, D-Loveland, new president-elect, gave the news media a pre-Christmas briefing on their projections for the session.

Anderson pledged to do everything possible to accommodate Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who is beginning his second two years of a four-year term.

He said Owens' drive to expand and improve transportation, which started before Owens' election in 1999. But it will be difficult to overcome the "deficit" that had accumulated in transportation for 25 years, he conceded.Anderson said a vote to dedicate a bigger portion of Colorado's revenue surplus to education is going to hamper that effort.

"It will take away $250 million in one-year revenues that were projected for highways," he said.

But his Republicans will continue to battle to improve schools because it is "unacceptable" to allow schools to miss their academic goals.

"School report cards are a tool that really empowers parents," he noted.

And Anderson also said a major effort will be made to keep Colorado's crime rate going down, particularly the falling rates of gun violence and school violence.

He acknowledged it might be tough to continue cutting taxes, "so as not to keep collecting dollars from taxpayers unnecessarily," and he vowed that "playing games" with the state's building surplus would not be tolerated.

Matsunaka, the first Asian-American to hold a leadership position in the Legislature, focused on improving the efficiency of the General Assembly. "We need to step back and look at how we do business," he said.

He said Democrats have already moved to reduce committee sizes; get bills introduced earlier; examine the possibility of hiring a professional Senate staff "committed to every legislator, regardless of party," and to begin work as early as possible on legislation to regulate growth.

Differing with Anderson, Matsunaka said there are some transportation projects that "simply aren't going to be built."

He sees an appropriation of only $150 million for transportation, "so there will have to be priority adjustments."

He also said health care insurance premium costs must be addressed, and he hopes reapportionment and redistricting issues must get an early look.

Owens did not attend the briefing, but is expected to continue to address his priorities at appearances before the start of the session.