Jerry Kopel

Early on this legislative session, the word went out. Republican leadership would hew close to the five bill limit permitted each legislator under House-Senate rules. If followed, that would total 500 measures if each legislator introduced his or her five bills. As of the close of March, leadership hasn't strayed too far from that average.

Because of major budget deficits, 52 Senate bills were introduced which dealt with reducing funds to state government. Deleting those from the total, there were 546 bills through March 27: 202 in the Senate and 344 in the House.

But more bills dealing with the deficit may pour in, some because there's still one quarter of fiscal 2002-2003 left in which expected revenue will continue to decline. And reliable sources indicate at least 40 bills will be introduced to prepare slashes in the 2003-2004 fiscal budget.

There is one disturbing aspect. Long past the deadline, more bills not dealing with the deficit have been introduced, 21 in the Senate and 27 in the House between Feb. 25 and March 27. And we still have the month of April in which to spring more post-deadline bills on the public.

To introduce bills past the deadline, the Republican leadership decides who gets approval. While not stated in the Rule Book, there were (as we in past years debated limits on bills) supposed to be compelling reasons for allowing additional measures. I guess Republicans had more compelling reasons than Democrats.

During a 31 day period (Feb 25- March 27), Republicans introduced 41 bills and the Democrats got to introduce seven. That was nowhere close to the 55-45 percent Republican majority in the legislature. But as George Orwell once wrote "All men (and women) are created equal but some are more equal than others."

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Perhaps legislators should stand on the busy street corners holding up signs "Help. Will do anything for money". They can put the few dollars collected from passing cars into the general revenue funds. But there is also an easier way.

Back in 2000, the legislature put a statute on the November ballot to allow Colorado to join in the Lottery Powerball games. As an inducement, any surplus moneys left over after required payments to Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), go directly to the public school construction contingency reserve found in CRS 22-54-117(1.6)(a).

Problem was the state constitution declared any GOCO surplus HAD to go into the state's general fund (section 3 of Article 27 of the state constitution). But if the money spilled into the general fund it was subject to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and possibly to tax refunds. Since "everyone" thought the heady economic days would continue, it made sense to provide this unlawful ploy. The legislative book informing voters of November, 2000 ballot issues acknowledged the ploy could be unlawful, "This proposal may violate the state constitution..."

Assuming there would be some surplus GOCO moneys in fiscal 2003-2004 and 2004-2005, it can be available to replace programs presently being slashed as well as pay through the general fund for any school improvements partially completed under present programs.

The bill would simply have to add these words to the beginning of CRS 22-54-117 )1.6) (a): "Except for the fiscal years beginning in 2003 and 2004". It would be a temporary freeze, would automatically increase money in the general fund, and not produce surplus revenue designated for tax refunds.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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