Under the Dome column: 2017 begins with uncertainty and opportunity
January 9, 2017
I'm having a hard time getting my mind around the fact that it's 2017 and the start of my fifth session in the Colorado House of Representatives. Thank you for the opportunity.
It looks like we are off to the usual (but more so) confusing, intense and sometimes exasperating start. There are more interesting meetings and social events than time on the calendar, more bills than time to read, and endless mind-bending hours in the Joint Budget Committee.
I had fully intended to write in detail about health care or education funding or public land use this month. I came to the realization, however, in drafting a column, that there are more questions than answers. This session start could be characterized by uncertainty. Complications in our budget structure resulting from years of conflicting constitutional and statute measures, differences in priorities between political parties and anticipated changes from the federal government are all compounding. While it, hopefully, won't descend into utter chaos, we, the Legislature, do have some heavy lifting to do in budget and legislation this year. It won't be easy to get beyond ideological differences to make government work for our constituents.
This may a good time for voters to follow and engage with the big issues in state and local government. If we do our job, we'll see change in the two years of this session that will affect our state for years to come.
The big questions in health care are: The "repeal and replace" of Obamacare (what and when?). The block grants of Medicaid (what and when?). The disparity of health care costs and insurance rates between urban and rural Colorado.
Education funding has been one of my passions for four years. While I disagree with others, I believe the total amount of public tax contribution to K12 funding is comparable to other well-funded states, but we have an issue of basic fairness in our system. To resolve the disagreements, we need a vision and a plan for the future of education in our state. I'm working with a bipartisan group of legislators to move forward. I also hope to see a referred ballot measure this year to implement a uniform mill levy for school funding across the state.
I expect that we will see changes in the uses and management of our vast public lands in western Colorado. Tourism is growing rapidly and visitors are looking for new venues. Recent discoveries of the largest deposits of natural gas in the nation and new private equity investments in the oil and gas sector will bring change. I plan to work to find balance between protection of our public land heritage and economic prosperity for my constituents.
I'm not totally negative, and there's room for optimism. In my experience, big challenges bring out the best of human endeavor. We have the incentive and the opportunity to solve some long-standing problems in Colorado budgeting and government. There are outstanding people in state government, advocacy groups and the Legislature. I look forward to doing my part with your help and input.
"Under the Dome" appears on the second Tuesday of the month. State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, is in his third term in the state Legislature representing House District 57, which includes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.