Under the Dome column: Rural Colorado can be hard to define
Under the Dome
This year and for all of the five years that I’ve now served in the Colorado Legislature, the words “rural Colorado” are often heard. This last session even produced Senate Bill 267, titled “Rural Sustainability,” a broad bill that benefited some rural issues but also implemented the very political and long-sought-after conversion of the hospital provider fee to an enterprise fund.
So what really is rural Colorado? Can it be characterized as any part of the state that is more than 25 miles from I-25? Maybe. But there are big differences across the Eastern Plains, the mountains and the Western Slope. Agriculture plays a prominent role, but some small towns are struggling with dependence on single industries like energy or prisons.
Prosperous resort communities are also located away from metropolitan areas and are included in “rural” area definitions. Some areas and towns are even classified as “frontier” based primarily on population density and distance from services. Needless to say, House District 57, the area I represent, is all defined as rural, so I focus on programs and issues that impact us.
The broad bill this year that I described last month, SB17-267, directed money to rural schools and transportation. It also and very importantly ensured that rural hospitals would continue to be compensated for Medicaid and Medicare patients. In my opinion, we’ll be fine tuning the major changes from this bill for several years.
But with all the talk about rural issues, it’s worth highlighting the work that needs to be done in the Legislature to support the Colorado that exists outside the metro corridor. Outnumbered rural legislators like me can’t let up or back off when our issues are in committee or on the Senate or House floor.
The allocation and use of severance taxes, collected mostly from oil and gas income, is one of my ongoing crusades. Transportation spending in rural Colorado will always compete with the massive needs of the urban areas. A coherent strategy to implement a broadband infrastructure throughout the state is lacking. Major changes to the public school finance formula and the associated collection and use of property taxes, both within the formula and through local overrides, will require both legislation and ballot measures. And economic development support from state agencies to local efforts needs to be much more aggressive. Tourism and agritourism need to be expanded and promoted. And as I’ve reported before, our health care availability and costs are huge issues.
I can’t say enough in praise of our county commissioners, local elected officials, town chambers, tourism promoters, and local advocacy groups for their support of all these issues. I’ll continue along with my fellow rural legislators to support all of them and individual citizens to ensure that all of Colorado shares the prosperity that our urban citizens are experiencing.
“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.