Rankin: Snow tire bill can pass; budget in crisis
Rep. Bob Rankin said Saturday that he needs two fellow Republicans to support his snow tire bill in the Colorado Senate “and it will pass.”
“I’ve heard people against it say you’ve got a constitutional right to drive,” he said at an open house in Glenwood Springs. “You don’t, and you don’t have a right to endanger other people.”
Rankin, from Carbondale, in his second term in the Colorado House and in his first session as a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, covered a range of topics, from concern that the state’s prosperity is not being shared in rural areas to severe budget challenges to doubts about the Oil and Gas Task Force recommendations to add inspectors. The Glenwood event at the Garfield County commissioners’ meeting room was his second of the day, following a morning session at Battlement Mesa.
On the tire bill, Rankin said it would clarify that passenger vehicles must have adequate tread depth on their tires or carry chains or other traction devices from Nov. 1 to May 15 from Morrison to Dotsero on Interstate 70. Beyond safety issues, I-70 closures are costly to commerce and tourism and are often caused by drivers with bad tires, Vail Mayor Andy Daly told Colorado Mountain News Media last year. Daly said that last winter, 22 road closures on Vail Pass were caused by private vehicles, 18 of which had no snow tires or bad tires.
The bill, which Rankin said is supported by the Colorado Department of Transportation, State Patrol and trucking organizations, was co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs.
“I don’t have a Senate sponsor yet,” Rankin said, urging constituents present to contact their state senator, Randy Baumgardner of Granby, to back the bill.
“If you get caught behind these kids driving bald-tire Subarus, you would vote for my bill,” he said.
On other topics, Rankin said he thought the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force made reasonable recommendations, “but by no means did what the governor hoped they would do. They didn’t resolve the issues,” and Rankin expects ballot initiatives to bubble up as the fight between fossil fuel development and environmentalists continues.
Recommendations that will go before the Legislature and the Joint Budget Committee call for 17 staff positions, including at least three additional field inspectors for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
“I’m not sure what they do,” Rankin said of the inspectors, who he said work only above ground, while the oil and gas companies have remote telemetry to monitor well sites. “I think we are satisfying a political issue and not actually addressing a need,” he said.
As a member of the Joint Budget Committee, which is working on the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Rankin has gotten a detailed view of challenges facing the state.
He said that while the Front Range is booming and the state is properly viewed as doing well nationally, Colorado is not developing evenly.
“We need ways to share that prosperity in western Colorado and rural Colorado” with infrastructure investment, education and economic development incentives. While state unemployment is under 5 percent, it’s officially 8 percent in western Colorado, he said, with a real rate of 12-13 percent, hurt further by recent oil and gas layoffs.
At the same time, the state budget faces pressure from K-12 educators, who argue that because of the “negative factor” created to get around education funding rules after the recession, schools are owed $894 million; from transportation maintenance that is $1.5 billion underfunded; and from $300 million in unexpected Medicare costs projected for the next budget year.
Because of override votes worth $823 million, “it’s a myth that the state is underspending on education,” Rankin said, but that money is unevenly distributed, creating “unfair, inequitable opportunities for our children.” He said he is co-sponsoring, with Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, a proposal to create a bipartisan task force to study and solve the inequity. “We’ve got to fix K-12 education,” he said, later noting, “I don’t believe anyone believes we are getting our money’s worth out of education.”
With all of the pressure on spending and added revenue from marijuana and severance taxes that weren’t contemplated when TABOR — Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights — was approved in 1992, “We are headed to an absolute crisis in the budget,” Rankin said.
Oversimplified, TABOR bars tax increases without voter approval and requires that, unless voters approve, any revenue in excess of the percentage gain in population plus the rate of inflation be refunded to state taxpayers. “It is the most restrictive tax and spending limitation in the country,” according to the Bell Policy Center.
Rankin said it needs to be modified at least to exclude sources of revenue and costs that weren’t foreseen when it was passed.
“Some strong Republicans say they would do away with it,” he said, and changes are being discussed in Denver.
The next key moment for the budget is March 18, when legislators get a new revenue forecast that will be used to set spending for the next fiscal year.
On one other issue, money for driver’s licenses for immigrants lacking documentation to show they are in the country legally, Rankin has been at the center of a political brush fire. He and the two other Republicans on the budget committee refused to release money to allow the Division of Motor Vehicles to make the popular licenses available at more DMV stations. That move led the Department of Revenue, which was blocked from making temporary employees permanent, to reduce offices where the licenses could be obtained from five to one and to begin rescheduling 8,000 appointments.
With Republicans controlling the state Senate by one seat and Democrats controlling the House by three seats, lawmakers are deadlocked on a resolution to the issue.
Unlike some of his GOP colleagues, Rankin has not said he is flatly opposed to the program, but says the DMV has bigger problems and he wanted to see what happens with the program before authorizing growth. He said “all sorts of discussions” are going on behind the scenes on the deadlock and he expects a development later this week.
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The Forest Service plans to replace the Carbondale Aspen-Sopris ranger district station with a newer, larger facility.