Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper told newly elected legislative leaders Thursday he will spend the first 100 days of his administration trying to find budget cuts that cause the least damage and provide maximum benefit.
Hickenlooper congratulated Republicans on winning back the majority in the House and promised all 100 legislators they will have a role in shaping state policy.
He also warned lawmakers, including fellow Democrats, that he won’t give them credit if they don’t take part in putting those policies together.
“We need you guys to take ownership. There is no point giving credit if people haven’t done the work,” he said.
Republican Rep. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch, who was chosen to be House speaker after the GOP appeared poised to win a razor-thin, 33-32 majority, said he plans to take Hickenlooper up on his offer to meet to discuss the budget, one of the top priorities when lawmakers return to work in January.
When he takes office in January, Hickenlooper will have to deal with an estimated $715 million budget deficit.
Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who decided in January not to run for re-election, has proposed cuts that will hurt smokers, students, state employees and people who use state parks. The proposed $19.1 billion budget goes to state budget-makers next week for hearings.
Hickenlooper said it was a good starting place, but he plans to offer a compromise he hopes to strike between Republicans and Democrats. He refused to offer specifics, saying that would defeat the purpose of a compromise.
Hickenlooper told lawmakers he also shared their goal of a smaller, more efficient state government, and he vowed to “never play politics with policy.”
“I’m happy to share credit across the aisle,” he said.
House Democrats said some votes still haven’t been counted, but they acknowledged they would probably lose the majority when the ballots are certified Nov. 25. They elected Rep. Sal Pace of Pueblo as their minority leader.
Democrats still have control of the Senate, and they re-elected President Brandon Shaffer of Longmont. Republicans re-elected Minority Leader Mike Kopp of Littleton.
The new leaders won’t take power until after lawmakers convene in January.
Hickenlooper also hired two holdovers from his mayoral staff to work in the governor’s office. Roxane White will be his chief of staff and Eric Brown will be the communications director.
John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University, said with only a one-vote majority, House Republicans will have to work with Hickenlooper and Democrats if they want to have a role in shaping policy.
He said the legislature is reverting to a political balance between Republicans and Democrats that lasted for 40 years before Democrats took control of the House, the Senate and the governor’s office in 2006.