South Jeffco's state senator says Republicans will push several bills in the upcoming legislative session that will serve as their version of an economic stimulus package.
"No doubt, people are feeling an economic pinch," said Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, chair of the GOP caucus. "There's a lot of anxiety out there."
Kopp said House and Senate Republicans will push for a verifiable state hiring freeze, accelerated energy production, a repeal of the business personal property tax and a bill that would put the state's checkbook online, open to review.
"This is a terrible, rotten time to grow government," Kopp said, sitting in the gallery overlooking the Senate floor Dec. 10. He said that if state hiring continues at its current through 2009, the state will have hired 3,500 new employees since the beginning of 2007.
Evan Dreyer, spokesman for Gov. Bill Ritter, pointed out that the governor enacted a hiring freeze several months ago.
"We'll be keeping that in place," Dreyer said. "We're monitoring revenues and economic forecasts, and that freeze will remain in place until economic conditions improve."
Kopp called Dreyer's claims "dubious."
"After he put the hiring freeze in place, he also added 950 new employees in his proposed budget," Kopp said.
Kopp said GOP staffers have asked the governor's office and the Legislative Council how many actual jobs that been frozen but have not received an answer.
" ‘Trust but verify’ is the approach we're taking," Kopp said.
Meanwhile, Dreyer said the governor was part of a 2008 effort to reform the business personal property tax that resulted in more than 30,000 businesses no longer having to pay the tax. The tax is assessed on various supplies and equipment purchased by Colorado businesses.
"We'll continue to look at ways to ease that tax burden further," Dreyer said. "But we have to balance that with the revenue it provides to local governments."
"It's a step in the right direction,” Kopp said. “But we need to keep moving the ball down the field. I'm not going to say it's not difficult, but (repealing the tax) ultimately should be our goal."
Kopp also acknowledged the balancing act it will take for local governments to give up that money, "but let’s not just cross our arms and say it can't happen. Let's move toward that goal and come up with solutions to get it done."
As for the possibility of a state-level bailout for various economic sectors, Dreyer and Kopp had slightly different opinions.
"We are looking at ways to leverage the available dollars to invest in businesses, and invest in jobs, and protect the jobs we have in this state," Dreyer said. "But there's no way the state has the ability to provide a 'bailout.' "
Kopp was clear that any Democratic efforts to fund a bailout with state money would receive a cold reception in the General Assembly.
"They're talking about throwing symbolic money at the problem," Kopp said. "If he throws money at the problem, we'll fight it."
The legislature convenes in early January.