The second session of the Sixty-Fifth General Assembly gets underway at 10 a.m. against the backdrop of a hard-fought but successful campaign to let lawmakers keep and spend millions more taxpayer dollars, and an election year in which all 65 House members and half of the 35-member Senate must seek reelection.
"It will be a very contentious session," said Rep. Ray Rose, R-Montrose, who calls his six-county House District 58 one of the most diverse in the state. "I will work very hard to control the spending of Referendum C money."
Senate District 6 is represented by Democrat Jim Isgar of Hesperus and includes the same six counties as Rose (Dolores, Delta, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel) plus Archuleta and La Plata Counties.
"The big issue is still the budget," said Isgar. "Voters entrusted us with some extra money when they passed C. There will be a lot debate over that and it is incumbent upon us to be good stewards of the money they said we could keep."
Colorado voters on Nov. 1 approved loosening the grip that the decade-old Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) had on the state budget by agreeing to give up five years worth of TABOR refunds totaling an estimated $3.7 billion.
Isgar said lawmakers will be challenged to explain how they are spending the extra cash, which is estimated to total $440 million this first year.
"A lot of it will be going to meeting caseload growth (in Medicaid, social services and corrections) and restoring funds to some of the billion dollars worth of cuts we had to make the last three years," Isgar said. "There's not going to be a lot of excess above that."
Both Rose and Isgar said funding for transportation infrastructure were high on their priority list.
"The revenue is coming back better than expected, and with more coming in, more can go to highways," Isgar said.
Despite passage of Referendum C, state spending can grow by no more than six percent. Under another state law known as Senate Bill 1, excess revenue is split with two-thirds going to highway construction and one-third to capitol construction.
Rose said he believes the legislature should honor the intent of Referendum C that one-third of the new money go to education, a third to transportation and a third to health care.
Rose and Isgar agreed much of the debate this year will be over what, if anything, the state can do to stem the tide of illegal immigration and put limits on the funding of state services for undocumented non-citizens.
"There is strong sentiment for removing support to those who are in the state illegally," Rose said. "There are some regulatory processes that require further services beyond the federal requirement that we provide education and emergency medical care."
Isgar said the immigration could be one of several issues that lead to political posturing during an election year.
"In an election year you'll have a lot of partisan stuff come up," he said. "Some because the sponsors really believe in the cause, but some because the parties want to get people on the record on controversial issues."
Both Isgar and Rose face reelection this year. Rose briefly considered challenging Isgar for his Senate seat when Cortez Republican Mark Larson suddenly dropped out of the Senate race last month, but decided to stay in the House instead.
"There is no one (Republican) coming up behind me to replace me in District 58 and we need to develop a candidate for that," Rose said. "He (Larson) chose to drop out after six months in the race and I had not been working to build my political base in the sixth district."
Rose, noting that both he and Isgar would be term-limited in four years, did not rule out a run for the Senate in 2010.
Isgar said he again would be working on water and oil and gas issues in the legislature this year. He said some progress was made during the interim months to resolve the disputes over recreational water rights and the conflict between landowners and companies that own mineral rights beneath the surface.
"I've been meeting with farm groups all summer and they've got some language drafted that I'm look at with them," Isgar said. "It will go a long way toward protecting the agriculture interests, which are the biggest surface owners out there."
He said Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, was expected to re-introduce another oil and gas development bill to address the issue of so-called "split estates" on non-agricultural land. Landowners, builders and environmentalists are among the groups seeking more protections against the boom of oil and gas well development.
Rose said he favors tightening restrictions on the industry through regulation rather than new laws passed by the legislature.
"I don't know that there will be any benefit to carrying another bill to put something in statute that could be detrimental to the surface owners," Rose said. "The more restrictions you put on surface owners, the less the value of the land."
Isgar said he and Curry would be carrying a bill for the Water Resources Review Committee that would change the role of the Colorado Water Conservation board in dealing with water rights for whitewater parks that are being developed by several Western Slope communities.
"There will be more discussion, but at this point the bill changes the role of the CWCB where they won't be taking an initial position on the applications but will be making recommendations to the water court, same as the State Engineer's office now does," he said. "The bill also is limited to recreational water rights for kayaking."
Rose, a gun enthusiast and staunch supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, said he would not be re-introducing his thrice-unsuccessful bill to remove some of the requirements for registering firearms sold at gun shows. He is, however, sponsoring a bill allowing the resale of guns confiscated by law officers in various state agencies such as the Division of Wildlife and Department of Public Safety.
"Rather than selling the confiscated weapons to licensed firearms dealers, the state destroys them at taxpayer expense," Rose said. "I don't know how many guns are destroyed each year, but I know that some of them are high-dollar hunting weapons like $2,000 to $3,000 Weatherby's."
Rose also is proposing a bill that would redefine commercial greenhouses as agricultural for property tax purposes. Previous attempts to change the tax status of greenhouses have been opposed by county assessors worried about the impact on the tax base.
"My bill only covers greenhouses that are in commercial production, like those selling specialty lettuce for restaurants," Rose said. "It won't cover retail outlets like those that grow their own flowers then sell at retail."
Gov. Bill Owens will deliver his eighth and final State of the State address to the Legislature on Thursday.