CAF Legislative Review Offers Mixed Review on Session

Reported by Christie McElhinney, Vice President of Communications & Public Affairs, The Colorado Trust

A panel of Colorado lawmakers offered mixed reviews this week as they recapped the just-concluded legislative session for members of the Colorado Association of Funders .

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, Senate Majority Leader John Morse, along with House Minority Whip Claire Levy, represented the Democrats. House Speaker Frank McNulty and Sen. Shawn Mitchell offered the Republican view on the session.

Speaking to foundation leaders and funders gathered at the Denver Public Library, the panelists discussed the challenges presented by having a different party in control of each chamber. This year marked the first time since 2002 that the chambers have been split — with the Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans in control of the House.

The panelists agreed that compromise was key.

“We spent some time learning how to operate in a mixed environment,” Levy said. “What suffered were the core missions within each party.”

Sen. John Morse

Morse noted that “The results were mixed, just like the Legislature.” He added that he felt the media spent too much time focusing its coverage on the fights.

Still, the panelists pointed to a number of accomplishments. Shaffer said the Legislature “accomplished three or three and one-half of our five priorities.” Passing legislation to balance the budget, create a health care coverage exchange and overhaul the unemployment insurance trust fund were among the goals achieved, while agreement was not reached on constitutional reform or redistricting.

In response to a question posed by moderator Vincent Carroll of the Denver Post about whether the K-12 education system would likely suffer more cuts in the future, panelists offered disparate views while largely agreeing that the answer was “yes.”

Mitchell said, “Resources for K-12 and the postsecondary education systems, and other vital services, requires a rebounding economy.” However, he said, he doesn’t think the state’s education system is underfunded.

While noting that the state’s education systems now account for about 54 cents of every $1 of the general fund, Senator Morse expressed concern that more funding is needed, particularly in light of a spike in special needs kids. Still, he agreed that the legislature would most likely be required to make as many cuts to education next year as they did this year.

The panelists offered very different points of view when asked about the health care coverage exchange, which Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law earlier in the day.

House Speaker Frank McNulty

Speaker of the House McNulty said he “does not support federal health care reform,” and is “concerned about the effects this [federal law] could have in Colorado. We need to build a firewall.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Senator Shaffer said the health care coverage exchange is “about providing affordable access for Coloradans.” Noting that the idea of an exchange originated in the bipartisan plan developed by Colorado’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Healthcare Reform, Shaffer said “We need to focus on what we can do here in Colorado.”

McElhinney is a member of the Colorado Association of Funders’ Communications Committee.