As we near the end of the year, many people are busy preparing for the holidays and look forward to spending time with friends and family. For Colorado state legislators, though, its also the time to prepare for a different kind of busy activity, and thats the beginning of a new legislative session in mid-January.
Although Im not a first-time legislator after serving four years in the Colorado House, as a new senator, I was invited to participate in three phases of new-member orientation in Denver that occupied much of the month of November.
I learned that the rules and procedures are a little different between the state House and Senate, but after going through the orientation sessions, what stands out for me is how much information new legislators are exposed to when they are first sworn in to office. I found that attending the sessions was partly like going to a refresher course, but, without a doubt, I also was truly absorbing some of the information for the first time.
Attending the orientation also gave me an opportunity to meet and get to know other newly elected legislators from across the state. Because much of political progress is based as much on the relationships forged under the Capitol dome as on common policy goals, it was time well spent.
Ive received my Senate committee assignments for next year, and they include serving on the committee on Health and Human Services as well as the Legislative Legal Services Committee. These are committees and policy areas Im already familiar with because I served on these committees in the House.
Whats new for me is that I also will serve on the Local Government and Energy Committee as the ranking Republican member.
There will be a lot of work on these committees over the next couple of years, and then theres the main preoccupation of all legislators, and thats the state budget.
During the last phase of orientation, we were asked to simulate a budget-cutting meeting where we assumed the role of the Joint Budget Committee in preparing proposals of what to cut from the state budget given the anticipated $1.1 billion shortfall in next years budget. These cuts will be in addition to the $260 million to $300 million that must be cut from the current years budget because Colorado hasnt received as much revenue as needed for the budget passed last session.
This exercise was the most impactful of the entire orientation and relevant training for all who went through it. And its no different than what many Colorado families and businesses already have been through in terms of having to reduce spending and getting through this difficult time.
Come January, however, we wont be practicing any more. Well be doing the cuts for real. In the meantime, I continue to meet with and hear from constituents, local governments, agencies and nonprofits about their concerns about such reduced budgets. State government, indeed, will become leaner over the next couple of years.
With Colorados constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, theres no choice but to only spend what we take in, and for many, thats welcome news. However, one of my biggest challenges and concerns is that the rural areas dont suffer disproportionately because we have considerably fewer votes. With the concentration of Colorados population on the Front Range, itll take a lot of education and persuasion from the Western Slope and Eastern Plains legislators to make sure that doesnt happen.
Despite the difficult times ahead at the Legislature, I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve Southwest Colorado. We have much to be thankful for. I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season.
Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, represents the 59th District in the state House of Representatives. In January, she will become the state senator representing the 6th District. Reach her by phone at the Capitol, (303) 866-2914; fax (303) 866-2218; home phone 259-1594; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.