Guest opinion: Some bipartisan legislative successes
As chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee, the state budget was my highest priority in the legislative session that ended last month. After hundreds of hours of JBC hearings and intensive negotiation and collaboration among its members, we drafted, the House and Senate approved and Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a 2016-17 state budget that protects and defends Colorado’s way of life.
We managed to increase per-pupil average spending for K-12 schools by 1.5 percent; avoid a $20 million cut to higher education recommended by the governor; maintain the statutory 6.5 percent budget reserve; and avert recommended cuts to payment rates for medical providers. On the downside, the budget sets transfers to the state’s highway fund at $150 million, a reduction of $50 million, and it cuts $73 million from support for hospitals around the state.
Given our state’s budgetary constraints, I’m proud of the budget and the bipartisan work that went into it. But I wish we had a little more breathing room for critical investments in transportation, health care and especially education. Students and teachers in every corner of Colorado need adequate resources, and I’m concerned about the long-term effects of delivering the bare minimum of support to our schools.
A bill that fell victim to partisan politics this session would have protected K-12 education and our colleges and universities while also infusing a guaranteed $700 million into our state’s transportation system. It would have put $350 million into capital development, creating thousands of construction jobs all over the state, and it would have restored vital funding to rural hospitals and to local governments’ mineral impact funds. And all this without raising the tax rate of a single Coloradan.
I think we left a solution on the table, and I hope to resume discussion of this issue next session.
I sponsored a total of 42 bills this year, of which 40 passed. Most of my bills were budget-related, like the annual school finance act. But the state’s finances were not my only concern this year. I want to make specific mention of four bipartisan bills that I think are good for the state and for the Western Slope:
• HB16-1276, with Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, as my co-prime sponsor, authorizes the use of the state Emergency Response Cash Fund any time hazardous circumstances exist at a “legacy” mine site, a hard-rock mining operation that was abandoned prior to 1976 and where there is no continuing responsibility for reclamation under state or federal laws. This new law allows us to act quickly in situations like the Gold King mine spill last year and allows for cleanups at sites that are not designated as Superfund sites
• HB16-1336, with Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, as my co-prime sponsor, has launched a study on how a single insurance rating area in Colorado could help lower exorbitant health insurance premiums on the Western Slope. In 2016, premiums in the mountain area increased an average of 25.8 percent, while the average increase across the state was 9.8 percent. Combining Colorado’s nine geographic rating areas into one statewide area could even out these discrepancies. The study group has a tight deadline of Aug. 1 to make recommendations to the JBC.
• SB16-203, also with Rep. Rankin, directs the Office of the State Auditor to conduct evaluations of all state tax “expenditures,” which include tax deductions, exemptions, credits and special rates for certain groups, types of income, transactions or property. We hand out these tax breaks with good intentions but rarely go back to weigh the economic costs and benefits and whether the expenditure is doing what we intended it to do.
• HB16-1453, with Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, invests some seed money to turn Colorado Springs into a national hub for cybersecurity research and training. The proposed National Cybersecurity Intelligence Center will operate as part of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and take advantage of synergies with other cybersecurity operations in the Pikes Peak region.
Regardless of whether the Legislature is in session in Denver, I never stop working, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions, comments or concerns.
State Rep. Millie Hamner represents House District 61, including Pitkin, Lake and Summit counties and parts of Delta and Gunnison counties. She lives in Dillon. Contact her at 303-866-2952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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