POLITICS: Campaigns

Economy helps boost bipartisanship in Colorado

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DENVER (AP) — Lawmakers finished the 2014 Colorado legislative session lauding the same achievements: More money for schools and colleges, funding for an aerial firefighting fleet, and providing aid for victims of floods and wildfires.

That harmonious tone is a contrast to the acrimony of last year, when Democrats rankled Republicans in the minority by passing gun-control laws, civil unions and setting renewable energy standards on rural electricity cooperatives.

"Overall it was not quite as contentious this year as it was last year," Republican Rep. Brian DelGrosso, the House GOP leader, said Thursday, the day after the 120-session ended. "We definitely still had some partisan battles," he continued, but noted that they were not as intense as last year, when an expansion of background checks on firearms and limits on the size of ammunition magazines led to the recall of two Democrats in the Senate.

Battles from last year aside, an improving economy helped lawmakers this year. With more tax revenue, they fought but were able to agree on restoring part of the money schools lost during the recession. They also budgeted nearly $20 million to buy two fire-spotting planes and contracting helicopters and single-engine tankers.

And they passed legislation to forgive property taxes for residents who lost their homes in last year's disasters, a plan that will cost the state about $2.2 million.

On the budget, lawmakers had unanimous agreement to grow the state's rainy-day fund to $576.4 million.

"You look at the fire and the flood issues, you look at education, you look at economic issues, they were all done together with Democrats and Republicans at the table coming up with the right policy," Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino said.

But don't expect lawmakers to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" for long. Democrats will make their pitch to voters this November for why they should keep both legislative chambers, and Republicans are eager to try to topple them.

"All in all, glad it's over," Senate GOP Leader Bill Cadman said of the session. "Hope to make our case to the electorate about why it would be better for them if we were governing versus what they're getting from the Democratic Party."

The session was also a notable one for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who persuaded lawmakers to accept many of his ideas on how to spend new taxes from legalized marijuana, and successfully pushed for a proposal to give marijuana businesses access to banking services. The bill on his desk would create the world's first financial system for the pot industry, with co-ops acting as uninsured credit unions if the Federal Reserve Bank agrees to allow the businesses access merchant payment systems.

And a lot of the things he asked for during the State of the State address in January passed, including an overhaul of decades-old telecommunication laws, and adding $100 million for colleges to limit tuition increases.

But an effort near the end of session to broker a compromise to allow communities more authority to regulate oil and gas drilling fell short. The talks involving the governor's office, lawmakers, and stakeholders on both sides of the oil and gas debate have raised the possibility of a special legislative session to try to stave off various proposed ballot measures on the issue.

House Democratic leaders said the talks are ongoing, and if there's a deal, there could be a special session. But Hickenlooper said "we're not close enough yet."

Democratic Senate President Morgan Carroll was more skeptical.

"I don't think a special session is warranted or a good idea," she said, adding it that it would be expensive, and doubting there could be a legislative agreement.

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