May 12, 2022 - News

What to know about the just-finished legislative session

Rep. Barbara McLachlan, front left, sits in the Colorado House chamber Tuesday. Photo: Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images

At a glance, this year's legislative session largely represented a return to normal after two COVID-focused terms.

Beneath the surface, it was a monumental term with implications for a years to come, according to more than a dozen interviews Axios Denver conducted with lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates at the Capitol.

Why it matters: The major policy ramifications fit into four expansive themes.

1. Spending

"I think it's just overwhelming how much money we are spending," state Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican budget writer, says.

What to know: The $36.4 billion state budget approved this year includes a 12% increase in discretionary dollars β€” and lawmakers are apportioning millions more in federal pandemic relief funds, making it an unprecedented year for spending, lawmakers say.

  • The extra dollars are helping pay for dozens of Democratic priorities, from limited tax breaks to new programs like part-time, state-funded preschool.

The other side: Republicans are lamenting the growth of government with the creation of two new state agencies and numerous offices and task forces.

  • The state is adding the equivalent of 1,241 full-time employees in this year's budget.
2. TABOR

Democrats typically lament the restrictions in the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which caps government spending, and the issue is often a third rail in Colorado politics.

  • But this year, they weaponized the constitutional amendment for their political benefit.

The intrigue: Instead of waiting to refund extra revenues with tax filings, Gov. Jared Polis and majority Democrats issued early refunds ahead of the November election β€” now expected to be $500 a person.

Between the lines: Beyond the political flip, and gaslighting spin, Democrats changed how the refunds are issued to provide temporary property tax relief and give lower-income people larger checks, taking the money away from higher earners.

3. Polis

The governor, a decade-long congressional veteran, is not afraid to get involved in the General Assembly's work.

Context: Democrats initially considered it meddling and pushed back, but with the party's control of the lawmaking process up for grabs on this year's ballot, they dovetailed their work and messaging.

What they're saying: "He really is interested and invested in the policy aspects of being a governor," said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat and key ally. "My feeling is we are better these days at having joint priorities."

What's next: Don't be surprised this year to see Polis veto legislation or let bills become law without his signature.

4. Environment

Three years ago, Democrats used the majority won in the 2018 election to push landmark new regulations on the oil and gas industry.

  • The environment returned to the forefront this year with a focus on air quality β€” a bookend of sorts to four years of Democratic rule.

Yes, but: The grand plans didn't materialize into the major policy changes initially contemplated.

Details: The legislation that advanced provided new dollars for air quality inspectors and electric school bus fleets, but more authority to regulate certain toxins didn't make it.

  • An overhauled air toxins bill would require legislative authorization and limit the number of new regulations to reduce pollution.
  • Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Boulder County Democrat, said the legislation sends a message to regulators, but acknowledged "we're chipping away around the edges."

Of note: One of the final bills to pass charges manufacturers of certain packaged products a fee to help cover the cost of a statewide recycling program.

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