Rankin column: General impression of the 2015 legislative session
Under the Dome
The 2015 session was more contentious than expected but still very rewarding for me. It was an honor to serve you for another session, but, of course, Joyce and I are happy to be home. We look forward to visiting with you and attending events over the summer. Following are some reflections from the 120-day session.
• Visitors to the Capitol: My favorite was the fifth-grade class from Glenwood Elementary.
• High school interns: Vanessa Davila (Glenwood Springs High School), Tressa Leyba (Rifle High School) and Fiona Laird (Roaring Fork High School).
• Working on the Joint Budget Committee (JBC): Long hours starting in November, intellectually challenging, deep study of state government, nonpartisan (mostly), tough decisions, but great support staff and fellow committee members.
• Involvement in the big issues: severance taxes, Medicaid, TABOR, marijuana taxes, PERA, school finance, child welfare, prisons.
• Seeing a record number of my prime sponsored bills pass: 21 total (13 were JBC initiated)
• Focusing on Colorado job growth and economic development
• Being outnumbered by Front Range urban legislators
• My bills that died: 4
• Frustration with K12 school finance (not enough or the wrong distribution)
• Transportation funding shortfalls and the priority of Western Colorado spending
• The failure of business-friendly deregulation and tax measures
The just plain ugly
• Good bills that were killed in the Senate
• Important issues delayed until the last week/sessions lasting until midnight
My most important bills
• Senate Bill 244, a Joint Budget Committee (JBC) bill, restores $23 million of Federal Mineral Lease money to local distribution that will be withheld from future federal payments to the state and would have been withheld from distribution as a result of the Roan Plateau settlement
• House Bill 1225 requires the state to help fund and support counties when they deal with federal government land use decisions. Western Slope counties have often been left on their own to engage in lengthy and complicated processes.
• Senate Bill 288, that gives our counties authority and flexibility in salaries for elected county officials.
• House Bill 1317, that authorizes the state to enter into “pay for success” contracts, as a way to apply private investment and incentives to our most difficult programs.
• JBC initiated bills to create new capital construction set-asides and statewide planning, analyze information technology projects for savings, and set up a process to manage Medicaid provider rates.
Other important bills
• Senate Bill 057 was the result of lengthy and intense negotiations on K12 testing and assessments. Although not accomplishing all of what many of us had hoped for, the bill does reduce the volume of testing and allows for pilot programs to develop different assessment methods for the future.
• Rep. Yeulin Willet, R-Fruita, sponsored Senate Bill 282, allowing counties that meet the criteria of being designated as distressed to offer a mix of tax credits and tax exemptions to new businesses.
The bill I sponsored (HB 1173) to require drivers on I-70 to be prepared for winter driving conditions was turned into a study by the Senate. I will bring it back next year.
House Bill 1334, a bill to study and change the K12 school finance formula, which I consider unfair to small and rural schools and charter schools. It was stopped in a senate committee, but I will continue to ask for revisions to the formula.
The budget next year will be constrained by the provisions of the constitutional amendment from 2007 known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Unlike recent years, there will be little or no money for new expenditures. Legislators will need to eliminate or reduce spending on current programs to balance the budget. It should be an interesting year for the Joint Budget Committee.
Severance tax needs to be protected from being used as general funds to pay for other than their intended purpose as local distribution. This year $20 million will be “swept” from severance tax collections into the general fund. The governor’s budget had proposed that $47 million be swept up, so we did have a partial success by protecting $27 million.
The governor proposed that the Hospital Provider fee, almost a half billion dollar fee used to compensate hospitals for Medicaid and charity care, be set up as an enterprise and thereby provide relief from TABOR. This proposal and the possibility of excluding severance taxes from TABOR will come up next year.
Please let me know your thoughts on the session and priorities for next year. Also plan to attend the Center for Excellence ribbon cutting and Bill Signing ceremony with Gov. Hickenlooper at the Rifle Airport at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 13.
“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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