DENVER, Colo. (KKCO) - Jobs and the economy: state legislators say that's priority number one as they get back to work at the Capitol. And with a new shift in power, leaders on both sides of the aisle are calling for a more cooperative approach to solve Colorado's toughest challenges.
With a projected $1 billion budget shortfall and an unemployment hovering just below nine percent, it was hardly a welcome back party for state leaders Wednesday, the first day of the 2011 legislative session.
"There are a lot of Coloradans depending on us to turn this economy around," said State Senator Steve King (R) Grand Junction.
But looking to kick things off on a more positive note, leaders in both the House and Senate evoked words like "cooperation" and "bipartisanship" -- words that have become mainstays on opening day to express how that work is going to be done.
Lawmakers admit, however, those words don't always carry as much weigh the further they get into the session.
"It's the first day of school, let's all get along and play nice in the sandbox," said State Representative Laura Bradford (R) Collbran. "I think every first day starts off that way."
But this time around, they may not have a choice. For the first time in a decade, the Capitol is split -- Republicans control the House and Democrats the Senate. To make matters more interesting, the GOP only has one seat up on Democrats in the House and only five seats behind them in the Senate.
"That creates a lot of synergy," said King. "That creates a lot of energy to come together and to communicate better."
"Whether the parties like it or not remains to be seen," said Bradford. "But the fact is it will need to remain or at least aspire to be bipartisan."
Lawmakers say there will be differences and there will be debates. Republicans, for example, are calling for smaller government while Democrats say it's important to preserve government programs that they believe help the poor and working classes. But they say the greater good is bigger than politics this year.
"We're all very interested in jobs and the economy," said State Representative Ray Scott (R) Grand Junction. "I think we're going to have to have a bipartisan effort to do that. Without that, where do we go?"
"I've got a great deal of hope that we can define the problems and find solutions together," said State Representative Don Coram, (R) Montrose
Other issues expected to be addressed this session include refining rules for medical marijuana dispensaries and illegal immigration.