December 1, 1998

Owens’ ascension won’t lead to radical change

During Gov. Roy Romer’s 12-year tenure, his veto was often used to prevent legislation passed by the General Assembly from becoming law. It was the classic system of checks and balances. While the House and Senate both had Republican majorities, they were never sufficient for both houses to override a gubernatorial veto.

After the November election, times appear about to have changed. Gov.-elect Bill Owens is a Republican. The House of Representatives has a Republican majority of 40 to 25 elected Democrats. On the Senate side, Republicans outnumber Democrats 20-to-15. It seems that the 1999 session of the General Assembly might see action in passing bills formerly vetoed by Romer.

Perhaps the biggest activity will be in workers’ compensation reform. Because of Colorado’s inability to control awards made by administrative-law judges who regulate the system, the state has found itself with exceedingly high workers’ comp rates. Romer’s alliance with labor unions prevented repeated attempts to achieve greater cost controls. With the Republican House and Senate teaming with a Republican governor, such cost-containment legislation should be possible, and businesses throughout Colorado should benefit.

Voters should not automatically assume that Republican dominance will mean wholesale changes flowing from the new legislative session. While the alignment is pure Republican, checks and balances still survive – just in a different form.

Gov.-elect Bill Owens campaigned as a traditional Republican conservative, promising better educational outcomes, better highways and lower taxes. Actually, he promised that he would never sign a bill to increase taxes during his tenure as governor. Reminds me of the famous words of President George Bush, “Read my lips.” Many speculate that Owens will never be able to keep this campaign promise.

The new Colorado Senate recently elected Ray Powers as its new president. Powers is from Colorado Springs, and his philosophy is more conservative than his predecessor, Tom Norton of Greeley. As a body, the upcoming Senate will be more conservative than the last one, where it was regarded as bringing a moderate approach to legislation.

However, the new checks and balances process will emanate from the House of Representatives. Russ George of Rifle has been elected Speaker of the House, replacing retired Chuck Berry of Colorado Springs. The Republican margin is 40-to-25, compared to last session’s 41-to-24. The change within the House is based not upon size of its majority but upon the philosophy of its leadership.

Speaker George has formed a solid coalition to advance his moderate beliefs. This coalition has been successful in making appointments to numerous committee leadership positions. With a sound line-up of committee chairs and vice-chairs, the House will regularly defeat the most-conservative legislative propositions. Thus, House legislation will be moderate. More importantly, the House will douse the more-conservative legislation originating in the Senate.

Northern Colorado should have a strong role in the upcoming session.

Because of the moderation arising from the House, expect lots of debate on important issues facing Colorado, but little change in the tenor of legislation which gets passed.

Former Fort Collins mayor John Knezovich is a certified public account.

During Gov. Roy Romer’s 12-year tenure, his veto was often used to prevent legislation passed by the General Assembly from becoming law. It was the classic system of checks and balances. While the House and Senate both had Republican majorities, they were never sufficient for both houses to override a gubernatorial veto.

After the November election, times appear about to have changed. Gov.-elect Bill Owens is a Republican. The House of Representatives has a Republican majority of 40 to 25 elected Democrats. On the Senate side, Republicans outnumber Democrats 20-to-15. It seems that the 1999 session of the General Assembly might…

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