Budget Battles Begin

January 27 2005, 7:07 AM
The state legislature's Democrats unveiled their budget and TABOR reform plan yesterday, and there are no surprises. The fundamental proposal is to lower tax rates from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent, eliminate the "downward ratchet" that prevents the state from keeping increased tax revenues after an economic downturn, and replacing it with a requirement that the state government can never spend more than the percentage of the state economy than it did in 2000. There was some partisan noise yesterday, with non-legislators like TABOR author and El Paso County Commissioner Doug Bruce denouncing the plan. But there are also signs of bipartisanship -- the plan already has Republican co-sponsors in the Senate and is likely to pick some up in the House, where the Democrats already hold a 35-30 majority. It seems certain there will be some compromises ahead as House Speaker Andrew Romanoff of Denver tries to get Governor Owens on board. But it is already clear that the dynamics of state government have changed dramatically. In 2003, unified Republicans didn't even bother to advise Democrats of the contents of legislation they wanted passed (remember the "midnight re-redistricting" plan), they just pushed it through and sent it to the governor for signature. At other times, they were able to pick up a Democrat or two to help a bill along. Now it is the Democrats who are unified, and Republicans who fear being viewed as obstructionist are peeling off to join them. Only the governor hasn't changed, but if Owens uses his mighty veto pen too freely to block reform, the Republicans might find themselves swept out of that office next year as well.