Under the Dome: A storm over rural Colorado
February 12, 2018
The governor's state of the state address mentioned rural Colorado 27 times. The Denver Post has done an excellent job describing the urban/rural divide. The Legislature's most significant bill of the 2017 session was titled "Sustainability of Rural Colorado."
And yet, I have grave concerns for the most intractable issues facing the rural Colorado that I represent and love.
Rural Colorado is on a very different trajectory than its urban counterpart. Some of the highest health-care costs in the nation, the impact of the Gallagher amendment on tax revenue, disappearing severance tax revenue, lack of high-speed internet access, inequitable school funding, and needed transportation upgrades all compound. And I haven't mentioned the need to move ahead with the state's water plan.
There are bright spots, of course. Tourism is booming, and economic development led by state and local leadership shows promise. And there's no doubt that all Coloradans value our heritage and vast natural resources.
However, I don't believe we've adequately assessed the impact of these issues taken together. Will new businesses even consider locating in small-town Colorado? Retirees will think carefully before relocating here. Young people will be even more drawn to the city.
I challenge my urban colleagues to do more than pay lip service. Let's address these problems and make Colorado an exception to the growing national urban/rural divide. Can we envision an interconnected state that shares the prosperity so evident in urban Colorado? Will Front Range politicians understand and care enough to rally behind hard choices and make sacrifices? I believe so.
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Are there solutions that can be enacted or at least supported by the state government? Yes, there are.
Transportation: There is enough general fund revenue in the '18/19 budget to start catching up to the needs of both urban and rural.
Gallagher Impact: It will take a constitutional amendment to fix the regional disparity. We should start now with a select legislative committee to prepare for a 2020 ballot measure.
Education Funding: It's entirely possible to resolve the issues of funding equity with legislative action that is under development. We are also developing a vision and a long-term strategy for education that will ensure opportunity for every student in Colorado.
Health-care cost: Two bills making their way in the legislature this year can dramatically lower rural health care insurance cost.
Broadband access: A combination of new funding sources and a strategy of public-private partnerships in bills this year can build out high-speed internet access in the 20 percent of the state that still lags behind and can solve this disparity.
Severance taxes: This source of revenue, vital to rural areas, may start to recover on its own but spending needs to focus on impacted areas instead of used for the general fund and a wide variety of other purposes.
Let's focus on a comprehensive approach and legislative support that preserves our state's rich heritage and ensures a bright future for all our citizens.
Representative Bob Rankin represents House District 57. He writes the monthly column "Under the Dome" hoping to inform and engage the constituents in his district. He serves on the Joint Budget Committee and represents Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.