Under the Dome column: Let’s focus on Colorado issues
I’m trying very hard to ignore presidential politics and deal with Colorado and Western Slope issues. I think we’ll all be glad when this election is over. Given the constant media hype and personal attacks, contrasted with a public desire for real solutions and better government, we’re all frustrated. Are we supposed to be entertained by an election, or should we care about real issues? It seems to me that we have plenty on our plate locally, and we can actually have some control over the outcome of state and local issues, so that’s where I’ll focus.
I go back to work full time in Denver mid-November when Joint Budget Committee briefings and hearings start. We dig through the plans and budgets of 22 agencies or departments. The rest of the Legislature convenes in January. The JBC will be working with a budget proposed by the governor’s office that is to be released early in November. We anticipate a tough year of planning starting off with a big shortfall of forecasted revenue compared to our March balanced budget bill. We have large demands for increased transportation and education funding and Medicaid continues to grow, so the September declining revenue forecast was a shocker. Past constitutional amendments and laws that restrict or direct spending have complicated the Colorado budget process so that we have little flexibility.
Perhaps the issue of most concern to me on behalf of Western Slope families is the high cost of individual and group health insurance. The state is divided into nine regions, and the cost of insurance in our region is much higher than Front Range regions. I’ll be pushing for one rate statewide that will reduce our costs by 25 percent or more. Insurance costs will still be outrageously high. Under the “Affordable Care Act” we can’t buy a policy tailored to our needs, we are subsidizing Medicaid and Medicare through “cost shifting,” and we are supporting a built-up demand by people with pre-existing conditions. I’m participating in a working group to look for short- and long-term solutions. Our problems are not unique to our state, so we are hoping for national-level solutions, and we are also monitoring what other states are doing.
The summer has been very busy. I seem to have opportunities every day to participate in a panel, meeting or just a coffee shop discussion of so many interesting topics. Hot issues this summer are: severance taxes (or lack thereof), the water plan and how to fund it, energy of all (competing) forms, school finance, tourism strategy, broadband, public lands, transportation, and mental health. Did I leave out your favorite? I love this job.
Viewed from a state budget perspective, it does seem to be all doom and gloom, but as Joyce and I have traveled throughout western Colorado this summer working on her campaign, I’ve been reminded of how lucky we are to live here. When I visit with local governments, businesses and schools, I see so many bright spots of good government, smart kids and exciting entrepreneurial innovation that I forget for a time about those darn spread sheets.
Be sure to vote and then to communicate with your elected officials. Thank you for the opportunity to serve our district and the great state of Colorado.
“Under the Dome” appears on the second Tuesday of the month. State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, is in his second term in the state Legislature representing House District 57, which includes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.
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The idea has been kicked around to make the ban on smoking downtown 24 hours rather than the current daytime hours only until 10 p.m.