By RYAN SHERIDAN
Daily Press writer
Colorado's legislature will have to deal with a shortfall of more than $500 million when it begins this year's session.
With the opening of the 2002 legislative session Jan. 9, dealing with the loss is a top priority for State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs.
"At the special session in October, the shortfall had grown to $380 million from the $200 million it was at in May of 2001, and at that time I guessed it would be at $500 million by the time we started the January session. Now, it's at over $560 million and might keep growing. That's what we're facing coming out of the chute," Taylor said. "The budget issue will be the main issue the state will be impacted severely by the shortfall in income and sales tax. It will affect every entity in the state budget. Everyone is going to want their piece of the pie to stay the same size, or get bigger, and that's what we'll have to deal with. Every outfit will be hurting."
According to Taylor, a one percent cut from all departments isn't a fair answer because it punishes not only those entities that are less cost efficient, but also those that are running efficiently.
Large projects such as the State Highway 13 expansion will be delayed because of the economic slowdown.
"I've worked hard with [Colorado Department of Transportation] Commissioner Bill Height to get a north-south route through western Colorado," he said. "It's that kind of project that will be delayed until the economy turns up, and the economists say it's going to get worse before it gets better."
Some of the continuing challenges Taylor plans to work on are protecting Western Colorado water rights and finding an equitable and sensible solution to the voter redistricting issue.
A proposal by metro-based representatives to change the membership of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, along with another proposal to remove the courts as the final arbiter of state water rights, combine to form a major threat to the Western Slopes rural and agricultural communities, Taylor said.
"Some metro senators want to remove the time honored solution of allowing the courts to decide these issues they want the [Colorado Water Conservation] board to have those decisions. They also want to change the make-up of the board," he said. "Right now, 80 percent of Colorado's water goes to the Western Slope, and some are looking to reverse that. I worked to kill two bills that would have done that last year, and I will continue to fight to kill these bills and protect Western Slope water rights."
The deadline for the redistricting solution is Feb. 7, and what has been proposed lacks "common sense," according to Taylor.
"The distances [the proposed districts] cover is not the biggest problem, what the issue is to me is what's best for the people of Northwest Colorado," he said. "Adding Summit County or half of Mesa County is clearly not good for the communities of interest of our area you could have two senators for Northwest Colorado from Mesa County, or have a representative from Breckenridge. There's not a lot of natural resource use in Summit County.
"Common sense is needed. Some of the distances that someone would have to travel in the proposals wouldn't work. Right now, you can go anywhere in the district, and it's a one-day round trip. People who are concerned about the money spent on campaigns should also think about the money spent after an election for travel to serve their constituents."