Under the Dome column: Life in the Legislature
This is the most intense and the most interesting time of the year in the Colorado Legislature. Bills are being introduced and disposed of every day at an insane pace, and some actually sneak through the process to become law.
The budget is working its way through the Joint Budget Committee, my primary job, and I spend time every day on serving my constituents, enjoying visitors to the Capitol and protecting issues vital to Western Colorado. It’s a great job. Joyce and I avoid some of the social events at night to study for the next day and try to get enough sleep. We’re in Rangely this weekend after too long an absence from the district.
The legislators show up at nine every morning to answer roll call, vote on bills, hear debates and endless speeches, and make announcements. The speaker raps her gavel and threatens to fine all of us because we don’t pay attention. So far, 358 bills have been introduced. Committee meetings sometimes go to midnight. Controversial ones include physician assisted suicide, doing away with the Bustang, and my very own I-70 traction bill. I have a great bill, working with Troy Lange at our local Mountain BOCES, on blended learning to help rural schools. Along with Rep. Hamner, I’m sponsoring a series of meetings on K-12 funding that will hopefully lead to a better way of allocating our scarce education resources.
On the budget front, things are looking better. We may be able to balance the budget without passing the controversial Hospital Provider Fee bill and not draw too much on the 6.5 percent reserve that we have set aside. Improvements include a lower prison population, better local tax collections contributing to school finance, lower inflation and a myriad of other savings.
I remain very concerned about the costs of private health care insurance in our western counties. I’m working with a coalition of county commissioners and West Slope legislators to introduce some form of corrective legislation this year. I’m also working on the issue of Medicaid provider rates.
Severance tax collections from oil and gas are down about 70 percent year to year because of declining prices. County revenue in energy impacted counties as well as grants and programs funded by severance taxes will be greatly damaged. I’m working on a plan to smooth these collections from good years to fill the gaps in bad years.
Employment numbers in our counties are way down due to gas company’s troubles. We all feel badly for the companies who have been such great community partners and for our friends and neighbors who’ve lost their good paying jobs. While we talk about economic development to replace those jobs, it’s not an easy task to replace gas field jobs with tourism or find new companies to come to rural Colorado.
I’ll send out this column to my email list. If you aren’t on it, please email me and you will be. Please stay in touch, visit the Capitol and follow me on Facebook. Thanks for the opportunity to serve you.
“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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