Review of 2008 legislature's work

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By Rob Witwer

In less than three weeks, the 2008 legislative session will officially draw to a close. On all but a few key issues, its not too early to look back on the legislatures work and analyze what has been done good and bad.

On the positive side, it has been gratifying to see a bipartisan education reform effort come to fruition. I have written extensively about Senate Bill 212, which would modify the states model content standards and align secondary and postsecondary education. This bill passed the Senate, and will now move to the House for further debate. It is strongly supported by the governor and will be signed into law if passed by the House.

In addition to SB 212, another bipartisan bill to encourage innovation in local schools is moving forward and appears likely to become law. SB 130, which is sponsored by Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver and myself, allows individual schools and groups of schools to seek waivers from state requirements if doing so would help educators meet the needs of their students.

SB 130 was inspired by the work of Kristin Waters, principal of the Bruce Randolph School in North Denver. More than 90 percent of Bruce Randolphs student body meets the federal governments designation of poverty. Facing sinking test scores and daunting odds, Waters decided to break the mold. Despite opposition from the Denver teachers union, she sought freedom from the rigid personnel policies established by bureaucratic district rules and union strictures. Her efforts led to the introduction of SB 130, which allows innovative educators to reject one-size-fits-all mandates in favor of what works best for their students. This policy change, which drew interest from education watchers across the country, will give schools another way to put the needs of their kids first and that is, after all, the primary purpose of education.

While 2008 is shaping up to be a positive year for education reform, there is concern that the states new budget grows government too much especially in the context of a shaky economy. While the state will spend approximately $1 billion more than it did in the last budget (including the addition of more than 1,300 new state employees), we have still failed to create significant reserves in a rainy day fund to help the state weather declining revenues.

This is especially alarming in light of projections showing that the state can expect to receive $700 million less in revenues over the next five years than previously anticipated.

This problem is unlikely to be solved in the near term, but it is a matter of the utmost importance. State spending has grown 12 percent in the past two budget cycles, but revenue growth is up only 6.2 percent. This is unsustainable. Proposals are already being discussed that would eliminate the constitutional caps on state spending and extend indefinitely Referendum C, which fiscal conservatives argued amounted to a tax increase.

I dont believe we can spend our way to fiscal stability. If the state needs more money, we should start by cutting spending not raising taxes. This debate will intensify in the coming months and years, and it will present Colorado citizens with many choices some of which may be coming soon to a ballot near you. Stay tuned.

Rob Witwer is the state representative for House District 25, which encompasses the Evergreen area and most of western Jefferson County.