Rep. Bob Rankin’s Under the Dome: Summer is here
The time between Colorado legislative sessions is an interesting and exciting period for most state representatives and Senators. There are more opportunities to learn about issues, prepare bills for next year, and interact with constituents (did I mention fly fishing and bicycling?) than there is time on the schedule. And since it’s not an election year, we aren’t in full reelection mode quite yet.
I’ll continue to take advantage of every possible occasion to talk about Colorado issues that affect our everyday lives. I’m sure you share my feeling that we are already overloaded with national reporting (can we call it news?) of the presidential election 15 months away, and while each of our votes in national elections is important, there are also local and state government issues that directly impact our pocket book and our quality of life every day. And those issues present opportunities to get involved and make a difference.
My concerns for the time between sessions include a difficult upcoming budget year even in these times of growing revenue. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) will require that we refund collections above our spending limit, yet we are constrained by numerous constitutional and legislative measures that give us little flexibility to adjust priorities. I believe our K12 school funding formula is unfair to rural and local districts and yet there is strong resistance to change. The growing costs of health care and dramatically increased Medicaid enrollment is continuing to demand a higher percentage of the budget. And our infrastructure needs, particularly transportation, are falling further behind every year. In the western part of Colorado, we are still suffering from declining oil and gas activity and more restrictive use of public lands.
Given the challenges, what opportunities could possibly exist? First, our business climate in Colorado is good, although focused on the Front Range. We are finding ways to share that prosperity for the western part of the state. Second, the legislature and state departments are being forced to prioritize spending and reverse the trend of the last several years to add new programs and regulations. Colorado is becoming a national leader in performance measurement and budgeting based on proven outcomes. I’m optimistic that we can find ways to budget and prioritize and still keep in place our limits on growth of government through TABOR. We will see proposals next year to rationalize TABOR to account for more recent revenue cycles, including my own bill to limit the impact of fluctuating severance taxes on current year revenue.
Our “Intern in the Field” program wrapped up for the year. Three interns earned certificates of appreciation and I was able to present them at events in Garfield County.
Tressa Leyba, who has been an intern for two years and was a senior at Rifle High School last year invited us to attend her Senior Awards Dinner and program. We sat with Tressa, her parents and her government teacher, Mr. Jonathan Rice. Tressa is going on to college at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs where she will pursue a career as an elementary school teacher
Mr. Wayne Smith, government teacher at Glenwood Springs High School invited us to attend a program where groups of students present their final projects, all of which related to state government policy and actual bills. Projects included hydraulic fracturing, marijuana legalization, water issues, and severance taxes. I was asked to comment and help with the evaluation of the projects. I had to defend my own votes on several bills. Vanessa Davila, a junior at GWS HS and part of the government project presentation, received her Intern in the Field, Certificate of Appreciation during the morning program.
The third certificate was awarded to Fiona Laird from Roaring Fork High School. During a home event in Carbondale Fiona described the intern program and received her Certificate of Appreciation. Next year Fiona will be a senior at RFHS.
We look forward to continuing the intern program next year with another group of students and government teachers from House District 57.
I need your help to sort through the issues, recommend budget actions and bills, and importantly, to make sure that we inject rural, and western Colorado interests into the debates and discussions that go on in Denver.