The state's fiscal woes will undoubtedly dominate the 2010 legislative session, which begins today as state lawmakers gather under the Capitol dome.
With a shortfall of some $1 billion, legislators must figure out how to balance expenses with declining revenues. But it shouldn't be the only focus, as other important policy issues deserve attention as well.
They include fixes to the state's retirement fund, known as PERA, medical marijuana regulation, increasing Colorado's renewable energy standard, sentencing reform, and education legislation that supports Colorado's bid for federal Race to the Top money.
It shouldn't be a one-topic session.
While some in leadership have brushed aside medical marijuana regulation as a sideshow, it is not. The hundreds of dispensaries that have popped up overnight have caused concern in towns around the state. We hope legislators come up with targeted changes that preserve access to medical marijuana for seriously ill people, but cull out the frauds who just want to smoke dope.
Careful definition of a caregiver-patient relationship could go a long way toward solving the problems the state is experiencing.
Another hot topic will be PERA, the financially struggling retirement fund for public servants. It is in need of changes that would ensure its long-term solvency.
We're glad to see a bipartisan group of lawmakers crafting what are generally reasonable fixes that include trimming cost-of-living increases and raising contributions to the fund. We hope the employee contributions are structured to be payroll deductions and not taken out of possible future raises. That would ensure the sacrifice is truly shared.
Another issue that deserves attention is the proposal to increase the state's renewable energy standard from 20 to 30 percent by 2020. House Speaker Terrance Carroll told us he expects such a change would drive more green-job creation.
It's also a big jump in a relatively short time, and we'd like to hear what power producers have to say about the proposal.
Education reform ought to get careful consideration as well, as Colorado tries to position itself to receive millions in federal grant money. Reshaping teacher tenure laws and tying evaluations to professional development could significantly change K-12 education in Colorado.
The changes must be meaningful, though, and not merely legislative lip service.
Gov. Bill Ritter's decision not to run for re-election also adds a wild-card factor to the 2010 session as some constituencies try to get certain bills pushed through while they still have an ally in the governor's mansion.
Overall, the state's financial situation will set the tone for the session, but it should not be the only story line to emerge from the Capitol.