Issues

“Under the Dome” appears in Garfield County’s Glenwood Springs Post Independent on the second Tuesday of the month. It can also be seen throughout newspapers in House District 57 and the 3rd Congressional District

 State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, is entering his final 2 year term in the Colorado House of Representatives representing District 57, which includes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties. He also is a member of the State Budget Committee 

Below you will find monthly columns that he has written during his time in the Legislature.  


November 2018

Yikes, what happened?

Thanks to all of you wonderful and engaged citizens in Garfield, Moffat, and Rio Blanco Counties who voted for me to return for my fourth and final two year term as your state representative. I was hoping for 100% of the vote and I’m baffled about what those no votes want from their humble servant.  Actually, my margins were better than most Republicans so thank you.

I haven’t had time to do much analysis about what happened on election day (I don’t plan to do so) but plenty of political watchers are digging into the numbers, interviewing voters and offering opinions. Evidently President Trump was on the ballot and I missed it while many unaffiliated voters did not and voted against him.  Interesting to me is the fact that voters rejected ballot initiatives that increased taxes and then elected Senators, Representatives and statewide officers who supported those same ballot initiatives and intend to spend the dollars. How will we pay for what they have planned for Colorado?

It looks to be an interesting year at the Capitol.  Maybe I’ll take notes and write a book.  I’ll feature useless long speeches, dumb ideas, overreach, personal conflicts, futile statement bills, late nights, ambition, out of control ego, uncontrolled weeping, hysterical lobbyists, and a budget so complex that nobody understands it.  But wait! Am I being cynical and defensive? There are some very smart and dedicated people in state government on both sides of the aisle in the legislature and possibly on the Joint Budget Committee. I plan to seek them out and to work with them.

But I’m still trying to digest the impact of that radically new dynamic on outcomes in the state legislature. What does it mean for rural and western Colorado? Can I leverage my senior position on the Joint Budget Committee, my six years of experience as a representative, and my momentum on critical issues to make a difference for the western slope? We shall see.

For example, I’m waiting to see if the new administration embraces the work of the non-partisan Education Leadership Council that I’ve been honored to co-chair. Thousands of hours of work by hundreds of volunteers over the past year have resulted in a vision and a strategy for education from early childhood to the workforce.  Colorado can now share the direction and plans for a world class system of education with all of our citizens.  I hope it can take root in the new executive direction.

I’ll continue to work to repeal the Gallagher amendment, lower health care and insurance costs, equal opportunity for students no matter where they live, fair collection and use of severance taxes, tourism, and every effort to share Colorado’s booming prosperity with every corner of the state. I hope those are also issues for the majority party.

I wrote this article by hand in cursive (see Joyce’s column).  I’ll need a lot of help this session whether you voted for me or not.  Stay in touch.

October 2018  Since the election is next month and I have an opponent from Glenwood Springs, the editor of the Post Independent informed us that my October column would not be printed. 

September 2018

Club 20

We just got home after a weekend in Grand Junction at the Club 20 annual steak fry and debates, famous this year because one of the candidates for governor declined to attend.  Plenty of other aspirants to public office filled the energy space in an all-day marathon of speechifying and trying hard to disagree. Pretty amazing variety of styles and political positions. Some of the debates (not mine) got superheated when the candidates got the chance to question each other.

After being there, I have a renewed respect for everyone who runs for public office. It’s a unique experience to stand in front of supporters and detractors, some very strongly so on both sides, and dig deep into your backyard, expose your personality, and stand up for your beliefs. And my respect extends to the county, school board, and local level. Thanks to every candidate standing up this year. And to the many volunteers for boards and commissions.

My read of the early history of our country is that we started out with a stronger interest in local politics and less focus on the national level.  With the ubiquitous presence of news about the blood politics of Washington, maybe we’ve lost sight of important issues and dedicated candidates in our own backyard.  I quit yelling at the television when I got involved in county and state matters and ran for office. Get to know and support your local sheriff, mayor, clerk, commissioner, assessor, etc. (and your state representative).

I’m helping write the five bills that will come from our “Alternative to the Gallagher Amendment Interim Committee".  I'll report more next month on the details, but we have to fix the drastic negative impact that this constitutional mandate will have on our fire districts, counties, schools, and every other special taxing district.

My other summer recreation activity, the Education Leadership Council is entering a new phase as four subcommittees report the results of work over the last several months.  Over one hundred volunteers have helped shape a vision and strategy for the future of education in Colorado from early childhood to adult retraining.

With the help of several advocacy groups, we’re working on a plan, including several next session bills to contain health care costs.

We’ll see our ballots in the mail soon. I don’t get very political in this column.  I try to focus on western Colorado’s issues and what’s going on in Denver that affects us.  But I’m seeing maybe thirteen ballot measures in addition to voting for candidates. I like the solution to redistricting in Y and Z, but I’m concerned that several measures put more constitutional mandates and restrictions on the state’s budget process. I’m spending most of my summer working on and trying to unravel conflicting amendments from 1982 and 1992.

The legislature should be allowed to do its job, otherwise we should elect someone else.

Let me know what’s important to you.

August 2018

Off to work we go.

After six years on the Job as a Colorado State Representative and having just spent two intense weeks with multiple meetings every day and lots of miles on the road, Joyce and I have a renewed appreciation for the people and the issues of northwest Colorado. The goodwill and the thanks that we get are motivating rewards for our work.

I love to tell the good news. Employment is up.  Tourism is at an all-time high. New businesses are starting up.  The booming economy allowed the legislature to add ten percent to K12 funding, add funding for higher education, start to fix the financing of the state retirement system, transfer half a billion to transportation and set up a path forward for long-term transportation projects. Severance taxes from oil and gas are rebounding meaning more grants for infrastructure. We also passed, and I sponsored significant legislation to support developmentally disabled citizens and child welfare. Next year's forecast looks as though we can continue to catch up on education and transportation funding.

My job is to celebrate and communicate success but also to think about and work on the next problem. And my focus has been and always will be the problems and issues of western Colorado. Unfortunately, the urban/rural divide is real and complex. Resorts, small towns and rural area have their unique issues. All of us outside the I-25 corridor have some common problems, however. 

The disparity in health care costs between parts of the state, primarily a result of how the state insurance commission divides the geography into regions for determining insurance premiums costs, is crippling to our region. That unfairness could be corrected by my bill to create a single geographic area like some other states.

The Gallagher amendment's reset of residential property tax will result in as much as a 23% reduction in revenue to fire districts, libraries, school districts, and counties. I requested an interim committee to find solutions but it’s an uphill fight that may pit urban interests against rural.

I went to the legislature with an intent to champion rural schools and opportunity for all of our kids no matter where in the state they live. All I've heard for six years is that we should spend more money.  My experience tells me that we need to know where we are headed. I'm working as the co-chair of the Education Leadership Council to revision  

what education from birth to adult retraining should be in the future.  We need a vision and a strategy to overcome the shortfalls of the current system.

There are undoubtedly other issues but this summer these three are my focus.

Western slope folks are very active advocates for these and many other issues.  One of the highlights of my job is working with county commissioners, municipal leaders and the wonderful volunteers on school boards, fire districts, library boards and so many other organizations.  I especially appreciate Club 20 and the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, two fantastic and committed organizations that act as western extensions of state and federal government.

We have tough issues and a lot of work ahead but working together I'm optimistic that we can make significant gains during the next session.

It's a pleasure to serve you.

Why doesn't everyone think like me? (July 2018)

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn as an engineer transitioning to management years ago was that other people don’t always see things or come to conclusions the same way I do.  Imagine that. 

Last week I had a great experience working with engineering students from our wonderful Colorado universities who are participating in a month-long internship at the capitol.  They each chose a problem related to state government. They are analyzing the problem while learning how government functions.  They will propose solutions through initiatives or legislation.  I love the way they think. Logic, reason, and math applied to public policy

I came across a book several years ago titled: “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are divided by Politics and Religion” the author, Jonathan Haidt, analyzes the value systems and processes that go into our decision making and how they differ.  I think it should be a must read for politicians who aspire to be good legislators. I’ve been known to give away copies.

I think that I’ve been successful in my six years in the Colorado House of Representatives in passing bills that I co-sponsored with other legislators of both parties. We often use the term bi-partisan but there can be major differences between legislators who live on the same side of the aisle.

It took a lot of discussion and compromise during this last session to enact historic laws on pension reform (SB-200) and Transportation (SB-01). And it always takes heroic effort to balance the 29 Billion dollar budget. I’ve been extremely fortunate to serve on the Joint Budget Committee where cooperative teamwork is not just a good thing but is an absolute necessity.

But good will and compromise don’t always work. The conflict between human services and entitlement budgets and spending on basic infrastructure will be with us again this year and into the future.  As will issues related to the “urban/rural” divide and adequate education funding. And we will still debate the role of TABOR in controlling overall state spending. To get things done, our state representatives and senators need to understand that their “friends” may not think like them.  We all need to understand that our bill partners and the other voting members will be representing their constituents but they will also be using different value systems and processes to reach their conclusions.

I suppose that’s why it looks so messy to observers.  So enjoy watching the circus and help me make the right choices.  It’s an honor to serve you no matter if you don’t think exactly the way I do.

JUNE 2018

RUNNING FAST OR CATCHING UP?

The 2018 Legislative session’s over, and now I have time to meet with constituents and state department personnel to catch up and learn more about issues that I’ll need to study before the next session starts (November 1st for the Joint Budget Committee).  I enjoy this time of year when I can take more time to digest the issues and get to know people better. During the session with six hundred bills and 29 Billion dollars to spend it can be a little compressed.

Diving in after a short vacation, I spent two half days last week with a group of fourteen interns who are engineering students from our higher education institutions.  They’re learning about government and working on an issue of their choice to help us with possible legislation.  I shared my background and helped with their projects. With students like these, our country will be just fine.

I was a member of a panel in Denver that was convened by the Colorado Community Health Network.  Our local component is Mountain Family Health Center with eight regional clinics. They wanted to know how their priorities fit with the legislative process and political reality. Is there a political reality? Topics ranged from universal health care to hiring doctors in rural Colorado.

Back on home ground, I sat in on a session with the Aspen Community Foundation.  They’re mapping all of the resources from Aspen to Parachute that helps kids from birth to eighteen years of age. They can then determine where the resource gaps exist throughout this area.  Since our public schools only have kids twenty percent of the time, outside resources play a huge role in preparation for successful lives.

Continuing on that theme, I met with the CEO of Youth Entity, a great local non-profit that is providing opportunities for students that the schools don’t have enough resources to offer.  Financial literacy and culinary arts are high on their list.

I also met with a wonderful couple who have taken in foster kids with special needs and then adopted them. During the recent session I sponsored and help fund a major update and improvement of our state child welfare policy, and I want to follow up next year.  My new advisors have promised to help put together a local working group later in the summer.

I'm concerned about the future of our health care system and the cost of private insurance.  We are making progress, and we've learned that accessible primary care is key to managing cost while ensuring better patient outcomes.  I met with local family practice physicians to get a better perspective from their viewpoint.

I won’t get partisan, but of course, I'm watching local and state elections.  We have our primary ballots, and the changes that allow unaffiliated voters to vote in one or the other primary could affect the outcomes in interesting ways.  Whatever your political persuasion, turn in those ballots (mark them first).

It’s an honor to serve you.

May 2018

Now What?

The 2018 legislative session is winding down.  Only a few more late night, long-winded, alternately boring and terrifying days left.  None by the time you read this. Bills numbered 700+ this year.  I’m afraid to add up the issues that I won and the ones I lost.  I might not like the outcome.  But I’m proud of my wins for the western slope, and I’ll hopefully be back next year to go after the ones that got delayed. 

I’ll need to do more work with legislator allies and staff to introduce changes to school finance that will correct the funding inequities resulting from property tax differences. I also failed to pass a bill along with my bipartisan co-sponsors that would have lowered individual insurance rates in our area by 30%. And I want to do more work for early childhood issues including allowing special districts. All are priorities for next year.

But meanwhile, I’m gearing up for the “off-season”. Along with all of my fellow Representatives, I’ll be campaigning for another term. But I’ll also be very busy with two activities that can have profound impacts on our area and the state.

I continue to serve as the co-chair of the Education Leadership Council with the commissioner of education as the other co-chair. The council is made up of 27 education leaders from business, parents and the community, and the educational institutions. We have recently organized four subcommittees to focus another 80 contributors on critical issues synthesized from the inputs of 70 organizations and school districts. The work of the council spans the “system” of education from early childhood to career and career transitions. We intend to articulate a vision and a strategy to move Colorado from a ranking of “average” to a leadership position in the United States and the world.  We are just now embarking on an aggressive campaign of outreach to stakeholders throughout the state.  I’ll be busy as a spokesman for the council.

My other self-inflicted burden for the future is to lead an effort to find, propose and carry forward an alternative approach to the Gallagher amendment. When implemented in accordance with current constitutional language, the coming changes to property tax rates resulting from the amendment will have disastrous impacts on school and special districts and some counties. I was successful in obtaining the consent of the Legislative Executive Committee to convene an Interim committee to study the issues and offer solutions. Forty-two other legislators endorsed my request. Five other legislators will be appointed to help me, and we will call on tax experts to provide input. We can offer bills for consideration in the next session including measures to be referred to the voters.

So in addition to those two exciting pastimes, I’m starting to plan for a busy summer of parades, local government meetings and town halls.  If you have suggestions for times, places and topics, please email me.  After six years, it's still a pleasure to serve all of you who read this column.

Under the dome April 2018

Balanced at $28.9 Billion!

The Colorado House of Representatives first, and then the Senate, passed the “long bill” budget for the 2018/2109 fiscal year.  We still have the conference committee this week to resolve differences between House and Senate amendments. Colorado’s constitution requires a balanced budget, unlike some other states. Even though constitutional amendments and previous statutes complicate our budget, we have a strong tradition and history of balanced budgets in good times and bad.

Thanks to a dramatically better economy, we had over a billion dollars more to spend than in last year’s budget.  We were able to set aside $495 million for transportation, an extra $150 million for K-12 education (over and above normal inflation and student count), and an additional $70 million more than last year for higher education, and $225 million to begin to reduce the unfunded liability for the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA). And we increased pay for state employees and private providers.

It was an exciting and unusual year for the Joint Budget Committee of which I am a member.  There were quite a few requests and a vigorous lobbying effort.

Bills making their way through the legislative process will determine the details of spending for transportation, education and the PERA retirement system.

In addition to catching up on those issues, we made a significant move to focus on school safety.  An appropriation to the School Safety Resource Cash Fund of 35 million dollars was the subject of an amendment that started in the House and survived in the Senate.  Those new funds will focus on school safety officers and physical security modification to existing buildings.

And now on to other bills and issues. I’m co-chair of the Education Leadership Committee. The 27 member committee and newly formed four subcommittees are destined to move Colorado to a new and exciting vision and plan for our State’s learning systems of the future. Our subcommittees are focusing on elevating the teaching profession, designing a flexible education system, integrating community resources, and integration of the stages of learning from early childhood programs through career transitions.

I’m also working on two bills that will reduce our outrageous health insurance costs in western Colorado and a request for a task force to attach the disparity in tax revenues that will result from future resets of tax rates due to the Gallagher amendment adjustments.

Statewide and district primary elections are taking shape. With unaffiliated voters allowed to vote in either (but not both) party primaries, results could get interesting. Be sure and follow your local and state elections and vote.

March, 2018

WHAT AM I DOING HERE?  A LOT!!

Budget: There’s a raging debate coming on how to spend almost half a billion dollars of extra money that resulted from the good news since the November forecast.  Should the legislature increase funding for transportation, or education, or put more in reserves for the next downturn?  How about water projects, health care, corrections and public safety? As the Joint Budget Committee member from the Western Slope, my priorities don’t always align with my colleagues. I have to keep reminding them that we’re the real Colorado. It’s good to have more money, but it’s like sharks in a feeding frenzy.

 Education Leadership Council: I’m enjoying my work as co-chair of the ELC.  We’re moving into the second primary phase of the plan and creating subcommittees.  I expect fundamental reform and a vision of the future for Colorado’s education system to emerge. The participation is bipartisan and very inclusive.

 K12 Funding: I want more funding for education and especially our great teachers and administrators in the K12 system. But I also want the money to be more equitably distributed.  The pattern of local approval of local mil levy overrides has resulted in less than equitable funding in rural and poor districts. I’ll be introducing legislation to fix the inequity with the first dollars spent.

 The Gallagher Amendment: This a major problem on the horizon that will affect every taxing district in the state. Since western Colorado district’s total assessed value isn’t growing as fast as the Front Range, they will have to run special elections to stay even.  Colorado Mountain College did so, and the measure failed. I don’t see a solution this year, so I’m asking for an interim legislative committee to prepare for a ballot initiative in 2020.

 Cost of Health Care: Every time you or your insurance company pays a bill, you pay a sixty percent tax (fee?) to cover the underpayment of Medicaid and Medicare. And your rural hospitals and providers have a higher overhead than urban hospitals just to keep the doors open to serve us. The “hospital provider fee” was supposed to solve these problems but has not. I’m a part of several complicated attempts to help including my bill to create one geographic insurance region.

 Anvil Points Bill: I was honored to work with County Commissioner Sampson and Ms. Peterson from the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado to introduce a bill that will assure that money, withheld from our area by the Federal government, will be distributed to our counties that were impacted.

Reserves: A question for all you economists: How much reserves should the state put aside from our twelve billion General Fund (the income and sales tax part of the thirty billion dollar budget)? Should it be the current 6.5%? Less or more?

 Stay in touch.  There’s a lot to discuss and we’re only half way through the session.


February, 2018

A Storm Over rural colorado 

The Governor’s state of the state address mentioned rural Colorado twenty-seven 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 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 developments 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.

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% of the state that still lags behind 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.



January, 2018

Am I nuts?
This is the time of year when my frustration with government reaches a peak. They keep telling me that you can’t expect government to run like a corporation and I guess that’s true but I keep reaching back to my corporate days to solve government problems and I end up very frustrated. Who’s in charge here? Is anyone accountable? Where is all that money going? Am I nuts? Don’t answer that last question.

 Colorado’s state government and it’s extensions consists of about 22 different departments or agencies, 178 very independent K12 school districts, a higher educations system of dissimilar institutions, 64 counties that run human services and work programs, many local districts, a federal overreach that dictates much of what we do, and 100 legislators who have a better way. And we spend 30 Billion dollars a year!!

 And then. We have TABOR, Gallagher, Amendment 23 and hundreds of legislative dictates to the budget to contend with.

 In the budget committee hearings, we review over a thousand pockets of spending and match those to hundreds of budget line items, starting with and build from last year’s budget (we should be evaluating outcomes), add mistakes and overruns, consider the department’s new ideas, and then add new bills to do new wonderful things proposed by new legislator proposed laws.

 Am I complaining? Yes, I am. Would I do things differently?  You bet I would.  And I am trying with the help of a few really great allies. Last year I led and passed a bill to look at the effectiveness and costs of Information technology. I cosponsored a bill to investigate Medicaid rates. I’m co-chairing the Education Leadership Council. I’ve worked to align our “Smart Act” strategy more to the budget process. And I’m working with other legislators and staff on a proposal which would go to the voters to replace the Gallagher amendment.

 I think our state government should focus on some changed priorities. We should be looking longer term at our visions and our strategies for achieving the vision.  We should spend substantially more effort evaluating our existing programs.  We should be designing and proposing to voters a way out of the current budgeting morass that has taken years to create. And we should and can solve the inequities between our school districts and rural versus urban economics.

 We have state wide elections coming up and a lot of candidates are trying to convince us to vote for them.  I’m not a statewide candidate but I have filed to run for the last term in my current position of Representative for House District 57 and I’m paying attention to the statewide races and so should you. Be careful who you vote for. Let’s ask for leadership and fundamental change from bipartisan initiatives.

 What do you think?  Let me know.  I read my e mails and I return phone calls.

 Under the Dome December 2017

 

The train has left the station 

 The 2018 legislative session is underway.  For the Joint Budget Committee that is. We received the governor’s request on November 1st and we’re busy digging into and questioning as much of the 30 Billion dollars of spending as we can. Government budgeting amounts to incremental spending on top of last years budget and funding new laws passed during the session. We also investigate problem areas and pay attention to constituent or lobbyist input.  At the level where budget and policy meet real people, there are over a thousand “programs” from highway construction to substance treatment and everything in between.  It’s hard to measure true effectiveness of every program and “pay for performance”.  But we do try. 

This year there may be more money for K-12 education including reducing the amount of what was called the “negative factor” and is now the budget stabilization factor. That’s a number we subtract after we calculate what goes to each school district.  I know, it sounds strange but that’s just one example of how constitutional amendments and statute complicates our lives.  I could propose ballot amendments to fix some of the craziness but it’s too complicated to explain.

There may also be more money for our higher education institutions.  Tuition is too high and student debt is soaring.  Colorado has historically contributed more tax dollars to our higher education budget than we currently do and some would like to go back to those levels of support.

That’s my day job. I slip away at every opportunity to work on the Education Leadership Council that I co-chair. Our plan is to shape a vision for the future of education from early childhood to workforce and beyond. Treating education as a seamless system, exposing students to choices, and providing equal opportunities are goals that every school district, advocacy group, legislator, teacher and parent can buy into. We’re spending a lot of time reaching out to get broad acceptance of our process and goals.

But I still put my district first, both during budget actions and my own bills.  I’ll be running a bill to reduce our private insurance rates.  I’m also going to try once more to set up a public lands commission to help us deal with our federal partners. I’ll sponsor a bill to allow apprenticeships for teachers in rural areas. I’m constructing a bill to build out broadband in rural areas. And I’m looking at cosponsoring a bill on hospital cost transparency. I’m still working on severance taxes and supporting tourism funding.

Sounds like a lot and it is, but after five years representing you I’m pretty focused on what I want to get done. I appreciate your good thoughts and support. If you don’t see me on the street corner, it’s because I’m in Denver working for you.

 

Under the Dome November 2017

Be Very Afraid!

Be very afraid. The Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado Legislature of which I’m a member is back at work.  We have the Governor’s recommendations and we plan to spend $30.5 Billion of which $11.5 Billion is the general fund that comes from your income and sales tax. The rest is from federal funds and various fees that you pay.  The Governor’s plan calls for increasing reserves and putting more money into both K-12 and higher education.

The biggest budget controversies are shaping up: a need for more spending on transportation and changes to the state’s retirement system. I’ll continue to advocate for rural economic development, broadband and health care. Who says spreadsheets aren’t exciting?

I’m enthusiastically supporting the Education Leadership Council that I co-chair with the Commissioner of Education. I’m working with our local Aspen Community Foundation to form a subcommittee to represent private and nonprofit organizations that contribute so much to the larger system of education. Over the next year, and overlapping the election of a new governor, the council will put together inputs from stakeholders and set a vision and long term strategy to make Colorado a world leader in education from early childhood to career.

Joyce and I get a lot of opportunities to participate in panel discussions about budget and education.  However one of the most enjoyable for us was Adventures in Aging hosted and moderated by our very own Glenwood Post editor Randy Essex. Thanks to all the attendees, including many friends, for your questions and comments.

Thanks to the Colorado Tourism Office for selecting me for the Chairman’s award at the Governor’s Tourism Convention this year.  I’ve been on the board for five years and I’m honored to be a part of this office that does so much for all of Colorado including our rural counties.

Big news in my corner of the district.  We have a bridge! Joyce and I were actually two and a half hours in traffic, missed the ribbon cutting, but were in the first few cars across the bridge last Monday.  Congratulations to everyone who helped plan, advocate and endure.

As we head into the next legislative session, I want to know your concerns and issues with state government.  I may not always agree with you or vote for some of the new laws, but I promise to listen and help you find resources to help you be an effective advocate.

September 2017

On the Road Again    

We wore out the tires on our car last month. That’s either a testament to how well Joyce and I do our jobs of reaching out to western Colorado or the result of CDOT not having enough money to fix the potholes. For those of you not well versed in government acronyms, CDOT is the “underfunded” (to the tune of 9 billion dollars) Colorado Department of Transportation. Look for a lot of discussion and perhaps a ballot measure next year to fund our roads.

 Joyce was out getting new tires installed in Grand Junction while I sat in on the Club 20 executive session. The Club 20 fall meeting and the steak fry the night before always draw a crowd of west slope politicians and active citizenry to discuss and take positions on important issues like economic development and energy. I’ve been a member for years and respect the opinions of the representatives from 20 western counties. And we are always joined by elected officials and candidates from the front range, so it’s also fun time for handshakes and back slaps. The highlight of the meeting was to hear from Congressman Tipton and Senator Gardner about the big issues being addressed in Washington. I’ll take Denver any day.

There’s a lot of concern after the tragic explosion in Firestone about abandoned or unmapped oil or gas pipelines and well sites. Senator Scott and I have submitted a letter to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission requesting detail on the number and costs of plugging these wells and reclaiming the sites.

I serve on the boards of the Colorado Tourism Office and the State Internet Portal Authority, both critical to western interests.  I’m looking forward to the upcoming yearly planning sessions for both.

The Joint Budget Committee, my day time job, will be gearing up for another balancing act soon.  We get a new forecast this month and the Governor’s budget recommendation on November 1. Then we start to review the departments in detail. By March, all six of us will be exhausted and even more unpopular but we will have a budget. I’m sure Medicaid will continue to grow faster that revenue and we have to deal with the uncertainty of health care reform from the feds.  We’ll face demands for more funding for schools and transportation. The prison population has started grow so we need to reopen a facility. And the state fair still loses money. They tell me it’s simply a matter of priorities!

But we still have a month of travel, conferences and meetings, so those new tires will get a good workout before they get parked in the garage at our little apartment in Denver and we walk through the snow to the capitol every day.

August 2017

 JBC Starts in November

 I don’t know what to write about this month. Every time I get focused on a task somebody sends me a new email and off I go on another quest for truth and justice. There is certainly no lack of dragons to slay in the world of state government. And they always come back to life.

After three years of trying, Joyce and I have finally downsized from our big wonderful house that we weren’t spending enough time in to an apartment. No more sprinklers to fix or grass to mow.  I do miss my tractor. We’ve been on a vacation, gone to several conferences and had lots of meetings with people we represent. Western Colorado is a big place to travel around and we love it.

We’ll be back in our Denver apartment around the first of November to start the next round of budget work.  This will be my fourth year on the Joint Budget Committee. We’ll be starting this budget with a down forecast, an increased prison population, a lot of uncertainty about the future of Medicaid, the usual request to grow state government, etc, etc. The total budget will be around 29 Billion dollars and we’ll have some intense discussions about programs that spend a lot less, like one or two million. That’s the political dimension. Some big policy decisions and lots of individual budget line items.

The health and prosperity of rural Colorado was a consistent theme in the legislature last year and will be again in the coming session. With the Front Range booming and tourism at an all-time high, saturating the resort areas both winter and summer, how can the rest of Colorado share the prosperity. Economic development efforts from the state and local levels are impressive but I still believe there are basic infrastructure needs that deter residents and businesses alike from coming to our area. We need to resolve the differences in cost of and access to health care and associated insurance costs across the state. Roads, broadband internet access, airports are all factors that drive or hinder economic activity. We did make progress last session, but I’ll be working to keep rural Colorado’s needs in the spotlight.

I was honored to be asked to co-chair, with the Lieutenant Governor, a reinvigorated Education Leadership Council. Now that she has decided to run for Governor, we’re reassessing how to move forward. I hope we can continue to do this important work.

As part of our job, we talk to people about getting involved in public service. There are so many opportunities, ranging from local school boards to committees at state and local level to elected offices. The average citizen watches national news in disgust and decides it’s all out of control. But it’s not.  Our national constitution is largely based on the concept of federalism. Local and state governments are the laboratory of democracy.  I always look to other states for solutions and our Colorado counties share solutions as well. If you’re tired of yelling at the television, get involved in your school district or your town or your county.

 July 2017
Summer Reflection

Education Leadership Council: My big news this month is my participation with the Lieutenant Governor as co-chair of a reinvigorated ELC.  We will appoint the members this month and start our work to build a vision for the future of education in our state.  It will include all aspects of lifelong learning from the parent as first teacher to senior citizens continuing to learn.  It will be more about the process and structure to capture the vision and dreams of parents, teachers, students and taxpayers than mandating solutions from Denver.

Colorado Energy Office: Many of my constituents have been concerned and let me know their desire to keep the CEO funded.  The good news is that we now have funding to keep the office staffed until the next legislative session.  There were attempts to reach a compromise on this funding and the mission of the office during the last session and those attempts failed.  Without legislative support, the Joint Budget Committee should not override the process and approve funding, so I voted against a supplemental measure at our June meeting.  I did not vote against the existence of the office and I will support it if the general assembly comes to agreement.

Joint Budget Committee: I’m honored to serve on this important committee. We work from early November through the middle of May while the regular legislative session only runs from mid-January to May. We try to separate major policy issues from budget decisions, but of course budget is policy and we can’t completely separate them. Controversial decisions like the Energy office and the Hospital Provider Fee belong in the larger legislative process that draws in all of the elected Representatives and Senators.

Budget: Our last forecast was down from the March forecast but with a 28 Billion total budget and 12 Billion of that being general fund from taxes, small percentages are big money.  We get another forecast in September and will start to budget to it in November. The big challenges are changes coming to federal Medicaid funding, demands to put more money in education and funding of our transportation needs. Not to mention that the prison population is trending up and we are out of prison space. With the changes to budgeting implemented by SB17-267, we don’t have near term expectations of exceeding the TABOR spending limit so our budget will be based on tax collections, fees and federal revenue and there will be no taxpayer refunds.  But spending authority is not spendable revenue so funding challenges have not substantially changed.

Outreach: I’ll be traveling throughout my three county district 57 in the next few weeks and accompanying Joyce as she visits schools throughout the whole of western Colorado. As always, I want to hear from local government and citizens about their concerns and expectations of state government. Going into my sixth year and session, I still find new dragons to slay almost every day.  But I’ve also learned enough to connect resources and help my district, so let’s talk.

June 2017
Rural Colorado

This year and for all of the five years that I’ve now served in the Colorado legislature, the word’s “rural Colorado” are often heard. This last session even produced Senate Bill 267, titled “Rural Sustainability” that was a broad omnibus 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 twenty-five 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 area 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 funds to rural schools and transportation. It also and very importantly insured 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 myself 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.

May 2017
2017 Legislative Session: “The End is only the Beginning”

This is the fifth time I’ve endured the last week of a Colorado legislative session. I don’t have sufficient words to express my displeasure with the process or to convey the impact of this year’s convulsive conclusion. I’ll report more broadly next month but the real news all comes down to Senate Bill 267, a bill that “does it all”.  I voted for the bill because the divided Colorado legislature can’t solve problems through the “normal” process. This monster omnibus bill covers a lot of subjects under the banner of “Rural Sustainability”, completely dodging the rule of a single subject bill. The result will be a historic change in state law and the budget.  Reflecting on the future as a member of the Joint Budget Committee, I envision years of hard work to sort out the details. But we will make it work and we did need this starting point. And as one of the outnumbered rural legislators, I’m grateful for the focus on rural and to my fellow legislators and the members who negotiated the compromise.

There were several good bills this year that would have referred measures to the voters that would raise taxes for transportation. There were other bills and a lot of debate about the use of marijuana taxes.  We continually debate the formula for school finance. Hospitals, especially rural hospitals, that threaten to close their doors because of the burden of serving Medicaid patients. The Joint Budget Committee has worked since November and the state departments long before that to arrive at the most efficient way to use available revenue to serve the citizens of the state and address these issues.  And then we get a new bill 5 days before the session ends that does it all and much more.

First and perhaps most importantly, the bill converts the Hospital Provider Fee (HPF), a Medicaid mechanism to partially compensate hospitals for losses incurred by increased Medicaid caseload, to an enterprise. That means that the HPF will no longer limit spending and cause a taxpayer refund because of TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It goes on to define the operation of the new enterprise and require increased Medicaid copays. The bill then requires the state to sell and lease back $1.7 Billion of state buildings in order to fund transportation needs. It requires state departments to cut their budgets by 2%. It raises marijuana special retail taxes to 15% from current 10%. It supports rural areas by directing school funding and transportation dollars to rural needs. It raises the level at which business personal property taxes are assessed. There is probably a new custom vehicle license plate created somewhere in the 76 pages but I can’t say for sure.

The good, the bad and the just plain ugly: The HPF part of Medicaid should never have been a part of TABOR revenue. Now it’s out. The TABOR spending limit is set down by 200 Million. I’m not sure how that relates to the constitution or to good budgeting.

Transportation is partially funded through mortgaging 1.7 billion of state property.  Should that issue have been put to the voters? Is this the way to replace declining gas tax revenue?

Rural Education and transportation are given a boost.  Where is the long term solution to the school funding formula fiasco?

Where’s the fix for the huge disparity in health insurance costs between the arbitrary regions set up by the Division of Insurance.

Where are the solutions for broadband and rural economic development?   I ran amendments that were ignored on both issues.

Sorry if I sound a little frustrated.  Joyce and I need a vacation.  Wait a minute.  As you read this we are gone.  See you next month.

April, 2017
Your Focus

I’m afraid to start writing a column about state government this month. Can mundane details about only 600 legislative bills and a mere 28 billion dollars of spending attract your interest?  I worry that you, the dedicated readers of my monthly wanderings, are all focused not on Colorado’s issues but on the President’s latest tweet.  How to keep you reading a whole 500 words when the TV is reporting about Russia, the Supreme Court and Syria and who knows what’s next?

Well this should get your attention: $28 Billion total spending by the state, $12 Billion from your Colorado sales and income tax, $7 billion from fees that you pay to the state, and $9 billion from your Federal taxes.  We just finished our yearly marathon of budget presentation, amendments and then amendments to the amendments to get the “Long Bill” through the Colorado Senate and House. As a Joint Budget Committee member, I represent 27 other house minority members who suddenly want to know what I’ve actually been doing across the street since last November. And then they want to change it. It may be weird but I really do enjoy the process.

As of this writing we aren’t finished.  We are still working on the two big issues of the budget year.  The first is the Hospital Provider Fee.  Since the revenue from this “fee” is under the TABOR spending cap, we’ve put a restriction on its size this year and that action will reduce revenue to our hospitals. The rural hospitals that I represent are truly in trouble and are not happy. The second issue is an ongoing debate as to how we should fund our transportation needs.  A bill in circulation would ask the voters to approve a sales tax increase.  Some in the legislature believe we can fund payments for a large bond by cutting back spending from current programs.

And on top of our current budget problems, uncertainty looms.  What will the new administration do with health care reform? Bock grants for Medicaid will put a tremendous decision making and management burden on the state.  Since we are a Medicaid expansion state, we now have a lot more people dependent on Medicaid services. And changes in areas other than health care will no doubt provide opportunity as well as difficulties.

I’ll be introducing my favorite bill of the year this week.  Representative Hamner and I have been working for several years with a bipartisan informal coalition to put a process in place that will allow all of the pieces of our statewide education institution to work together to define and communicate a vision for what Colorado education should be in the future.  We intend to shift the dialogue, with legislative leadership, from one which only includes the need for more funding to a visionary strategy that can be the pride of all of Colorado.

I’m still working on other bills and collecting signing pens from the Governor.  Thanks to all of House District 57 for the opportunity to serve you.

March 2017
It’s all about Money

The hot issues at the State Capitol this session seem to all be about taxes and spending.  Or maybe my perspective is skewed by being a member of the Joint Budget Committee with the constitutional responsibility of balancing the budget again this year.  Did I say I’m worried?

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) lets us grow state revenue and spending by the rate of inflation and population. That formula provides a relatively consistent growth rate in recent years. The problem is on the spending side. The spending required by previously enacted laws and several constitutional amendments result in anything but a consistent spending requirement. Health care costs and Medicaid have exploded at a rate much greater than inflation. Severance taxes have oscillated from 300 million to just 20 million last year. Funding for K12 education is shared between the local school district and the state general fund.  The state share, because of the interaction of constitutional amendments has grown from 40% to over 60%.  These factors put pressure on the state budget to stay under the TABOR limit.  Other parts of the budget stay within growth targets but face this pressure every year. However we have been forced to underfund our transportation needs along the way and we need another billion dollars a year to expand and maintain our roads.

So what to do?  Is there a way out of this complicated and seemingly intractable morass?

We may, or may not, reach a compromise on transportation funding this year to come to you, the voters, with a ballot measure. We are certain to get massive changes in health insurance and Medicaid from the federal government.  We have to attack school funding through state legislation and ballot measures.  I’ve been working with Representative Hamner and a bipartisan coalition to form a vision of where we want our education system to go in the future. If we have a vision and a plan, accepted by the whole state, then we can talk about how it should be funded.

I’m still concerned about our interaction with federal land management and the changes in public land use for recreation, mineral extraction, grazing, etc. I’ll be introducing a bill to set up a public lands commission to help guide out our state efforts.

On other news, I just introduced a bill, and got it through the house, to reform our state procurement code that hasn’t been upgraded in over 30 years. Thanks to the Department of Personnel for their two years of hard work on this issue.

The budget committee will be closing off loose ends and balancing the budget and then presenting it to the legislature in the next month.  It’s the most intense time of the year for me. Despite the long days and intellectual challenge, I enjoy the job.  Joyce and I both are thankful for the opportunity to serve the fine citizens of this great state.

February-2017

PRIORITIES

Your Colorado legislature is well under way and I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s observation that no citizen is safe when the legislature is in session. Some 360 bills have been introduced and many subjected to mercy killings by the split houses. Ideas range from new license plates to criminal prosecutions to complete overhauls of the tax system. And throw in a few resolutions telling the federal government how to act. Since I spend most of my time in the Joint Budget Committee, I tend to look at it all through a spreadsheet. And what a disturbing view that is as we approach the time in this session when we have to balance the budget for the next fiscal year.

There’s not just one but three huge elephants in the budget room, each trying to crowd out the other two and each led by their own army of lobbyist elephant handlers. Education funding, transportation infrastructure and the big bull elephant, health care are all pushing and shoving.  Too many worthy smaller budget animals, some of them endangered species, are getting trampled.

It’s my hope that a compromise solution to future transportation funding will emerge that includes bonds for building roads and a way to pay for the bonds. The federal government will change Medicaid and Obamacare and perhaps give us the flexibility to control the growth of costs. We have to have a vision and a plan for education and a much more rational way to fund our schools.  I’ve been working in this area for three years and I hope to have bills this year, along with a bipartisan coalition of my fellow legislators, to tackle the complex and dysfunctional system of school finance that has resulted from past constitutional and statute adventures that conflict and oppose each other.

Although Obamacare reform or replacement may give some relief to our outrageous western slope health insurance rates, I worry that the regional rate differences will remain.  I intend to sponsor a bill for one state wide rate. I’m still working with the task force to attack the costs of health care in all areas and I expect several bills to be introduced soon.

With other Western Colorado legislators, I’m very concerned about the collection and spending of severance taxes. The significant variations in collections from year to year cause big swings in TABOR revenue and in the amount of money available for severance funded programs.  I’ll be introducing a bill that will require a voter approved measure to correct these two issues.

I remain concerned about the state’s role in management of public lands. Colorado could be a much stronger partner with the BLM and the Forest service to manage species protection, mineral extraction, recreation, forest health and other aspects of public land use. Big changes may be coming with new discoveries of natural gas reserves and different policies in regard to public land use. Are we ready?

Thanks again from both Joyce and I for the opportunity to serve. There are challenges and it’s intense but the rewards come when you offer your support to our efforts and gratitude for our work.

 Under the Dome January, 2017
2017: Uncertainty and Opportunity

I’m having a hard time getting my mind around the fact that it’s 2017 and the start of my fifth session in the Colorado House of Representatives.  Thank you for the opportunity.

It looks like we are off to the usual (but more so) confusing, intense and sometimes exasperating start. There are more interesting meetings and social events than time on the calendar, more bills than time to read, and endless mind bending hours in the Joint Budget Committee.

I had fully intended to write in detail about health care or education funding or public land use this month. I came to the realization however, in drafting a column, that there are more questions than answers. This session start could be characterized by uncertainty. Complications in our budget structure resulting from years of conflicting constitutional and statute measures, differences in priorities between political parties and anticipated changes from the federal government are all compounding. While it, hopefully, won’t descend into utter chaos, we, the legislature, do have some heavy lifting to do in budget and legislation this year. It won’t be easy to get beyond ideological differences to make government work for our constituents.

This may a good time for voters to follow and engage with the big issues in state and local government. If we do our job, we’ll see change in the two years of this session that will affect our state for years to come.

The big questions in health care are: The “repeal and replace” of Obamacare (what and when?). The block grants of Medicaid (what and when?). The disparity of health care costs and insurance rates between urban and rural Colorado?

Education funding has been one of my passions for four years.  While I disagree with others, I believe the total amount of public tax contribution to K12 funding is comparable to other well funded states, but we have an issue of basic fairness in our system. To resolve the disagreements, we need a vision and a plan for the future of education in our state. I’m working with a bipartisan group of legislators to move forward. I also hope to see a referred ballot measure this year to implement a uniform mill levy for school funding across the state.

I expect that we will see changes in the uses and management of our vast public lands in western Colorado. Tourism is growing rapidly and visitors are looking for new venues. Recent discoveries of the largest deposits of natural gas in the nation and new private equity investments in the oil and gas sector will bring change.  I plan to work to find balance between protection of our public land heritage and economic prosperity for my constituents.

I’m not totally negative and there’s room for optimism.  In my experience, big challenges bring out the best of human endeavor. We have the incentive and the opportunity to solve some long standing problems in Colorado budgeting and government.  There are outstanding people in state government, advocacy groups and the legislature.  I look forward to doing my part with your help and input. 

June 2014

 Learning how we are affected by state government and its funding

 It’s turning out to be a busy summer, as expected. There are more opportunities to interact with individual constituents, local governments, schools, and businesses and other organizations than there is time. My plan for the summer is to focus on understanding how state government and its funding reach into our West Slope counties and towns.

 As I dig deeper into state government organization and budgets to prepare for a role on the Joint Budget Committee next year, I’m becoming even more aware of the vast range of services and the complexity of all state governments. More than half of state budgets are actually federal spending programs run under federal law and rules but with some surprising options as to how we implement the programs. It’s interesting and necessary to compare Colorado to other states to find best practices, existing computer systems, and standards to measure performance. Colorado’s state government is a huge $20 billion spending machine that functions in a dizzying web of federal and state law watched over by an elected legislature and governor’s office. The fact that we measure up pretty well against other states is a tribute to the dedicated and hardworking employees in our state government. While we as elected legislators should represent our own citizens as our absolute first priority, I’m learning that we also have to be dedicated to making the system work even better for all the people of Colorado.

 The high cost of health care and the insurance rates in rural Colorado will be the subject of analysis and probably a lot of news this summer. The state is conducting a study under a task force, Garfield County will be doing its own study and Club 20 is also putting a working group together. We need to know why our costs and rates are so high but we also need to develop alternatives.

 The threat of a special session still looms. The governor is attempting to create a bill that will give local control over some oil and gas regulations to counties and municipalities. This is in order to head off ballot initiatives in the fall that would put regulations into the Colorado constitution. Two large Front Range oil companies support the legislative approach, but most of our Western Slope industry is not on board with the details of the proposed bill.

 Economic development on the Western Slope is very much on the agenda of our counties and towns. I’m pushing a concept that I’m calling “Share the Prosperity.” I have the support of the Aerospace Round Table and our Western Slope higher education institutions. The concept is simply to ask our booming Front Range companies to put some of their jobs in our wonderful western Colorado towns through small remote operations or Internet commuters. My vision is a virtual business and high tech community that reaches across the mountains. With the development of broadband and the support of this year’s legislation, we will have the tools to move forward to share the exciting activity that is currently confined to the towns along the eastern part of the state.

 Thank you for your support and thanks to the Post Independent for publishing these columns. I get a lot of informal comments from people who read them. I’m always amazed at how much the state government affects our lives and yet how little I knew about its structure and functions until I got involved. I think a big part of my job is to communicate what I’m learning and doing, so the opportunity to write a short column every month is very important to me.

 May 2014

 Remembering Gov. Vanderhoof

 The House and Senate both conducted a memorial for former Gov. John Vanderhoof that I was honored to present. The future governor came to Glenwood Springs as a World War II veteran recovering from his wounds and stayed to become a leading businessman, state representative for 20 years (before term limits) and governor. Two former governors and the current governor spoke in the House chamber in memory of Gov. Vanderhoof with nine family members in attendance. Colorado’s history and traditions come alive through these memorials and are valued by every member of the Legislature.

 My House caucus backed me aggressively in a floor fight over a bill that will take $6.5 million from the Federal Mineral Lease fund to pay for a statewide firefighter equipment grant program. Federal and state statues are clear on the intended use of these funds generated by mineral development on public lands. I proposed an amendment to instead use general fund monies but once again we are outnumbered by urban interests and the majority party. Our western counties contribute substantially to state revenues through these Federal Mineral Lease Funds and severance taxes without, in my estimation, receiving appropriate benefits.

 I sponsored the species protection bill, a yearly allocation of funds to the Department of Natural Resources, which will allow the department to continue its effort to both protect wildlife and also prevent inappropriate listing of species as endangered. The department has aggressively implemented species protections for years with some success and is now working hard on greater sage-grouse protections while negotiating with the Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid major economic impacts from a listing.

 I’m very concerned about the future of Garfield County’s economy and jobs. The county is facing twin crises of declining gas production and the highest health care rates in the nation. With mandatory coverage under the Affordable Care Act, citizens in Garfield County are losing coverage and can’t afford to replace their canceled policy. Despite the tireless efforts of Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, the state is not likely to make more than a small improvement in insurance rates for next year. Meanwhile the BLM is signaling not only fewer new drilling permits on federal lands but even a reversal of leases that have been in place for years. Combined with low prices for gas and competition from states with less costly regulation, we can expect the energy sector of the economy to decline. And new businesses that might replace energy will have a choice of locating in Grand Junction or Boulder where their health care costs are 50 percent less.

I was recently appointed to the Joint Budget Committee. The JBC is made up of six representatives and senators who are responsible for the state’s final budget after inputs from the governor’s office and the Legislature. I plan to advocate for rural Colorado and the Western Slope but also work hard to help manage the $20 billion spending machine that is Colorado government. This is an important assignment, but I’ll have to give up my roles on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the Local Government committee and the Technology Committee.

 Thanks to all of the citizens of District 57 for your confidence and support. I take seriously my obligation to support all of us, regardless of party affiliation. We won’t always agree, but I’ll continue to explain my position and represent your interests.

 
April 2014

 Legislative session is really flush with bills

 “If you like your toilet, you can keep your toilet.” Does that sound familiar? Does it sound like the Affordable Care Act? One of the longest and hardest fought floor debates last week had to do with toilets. The sponsor actually made that statement. The bill will require that all new shower and toilet fixtures be energy efficient to conserve water. Our own Colorado Water District supports it in the hope that the Front Range will divert less water. But I don’t think government should limit choice unless it’s a public safety issue or offers some other very clear benefit. I have to flush the efficient toilet in our rented Denver apartment about three times, so I don’t think they work as advertised. The shower, in this touted “green energy efficient” building, takes five minutes of running in order to get hot water. But water conservation is actually a very serious topic in Colorado. Follow the progress of the water plan being developed this year. It will supposedly guide water use and conservation for years into the future.

 One of the biggest current challenges facing Garfield County is the rate structure set by the state for insurance that meets the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. To purchase insurance, rural Garfield county residents have to pay roughly twice what a Front Range resident of Boulder pays. I’m supporting the efforts of our county commissioners, led by Commissioner Jankovsky. If legislation will work to lower our rates, I’ll sponsor it.

 The Legislature is getting closer to agreement on two education bills that will add some, but not enough, funding for K12 school districts. Funding is well below the base level needed to keep the doors open without a local tax increase initiative, and several of our rural school districts are forced to adopt or continue a four-day week. I’ve fought, along with my caucus, for more base funding without mandates. However, spending priorities by the majority party and a fear of sustainable funds have prevented restoring historic educational funding. The state’s total revenue is approaching the TABOR limit, which will require a refund to taxpayers of collections above the limit. Taxpayers voted two to one against a tax increase for education last year that would raise the limit. With Medicaid costs expected to increase faster than revenue, the future of education funding is very problematic.

 We had a very controversial bill and debate in the Agriculture Committee that could have a big effect on water for irrigation and stream flow in our area. The bill would allow irrigators to use more efficient means of watering crops and fields and then sell or donate the saved water to keep our streams flowing all year. I like the concept, but we can’t seem to get agreement between the irrigators, lawyers, fishermen like me and environmentalists. We haven’t voted as of this writing. I would like to see us work on the bill this summer and come back with agreement since I really don’t think the committee, of which I am a member, is capable of sorting out this complicated water law issue.

 The session will be over May 7. We’ve passed 114 bills and killed 118. There are probably another 250 bills in the system, so it will be a busy month. Thanks for your input on bills so far. I do pay attention to emails, letters and phone calls. Interesting bills influenced by your concerns have included education funding, eminent domain for pipelines, and new water laws.

 Look for some important initiatives emerging for the November ballot. The big ones for our area will be about “fracking” and maybe local control over development. I think we all need to learn as much as we can before we take sides on these issues that are so important to us.

 Thank you for your continued support and input. Joyce and I look forward to attending local events and visiting with our friends this summer.

 It continues to be an honor to serve as your representative.

  March 2014

 At the halfway mark of the 2014 legislative session

 We’re midway through the 2014 legislative session, and there’s plenty of animated controversy, bad and good bills, and elegant elocution. And most of us are running for office. What an experience.

 Thanks to everyone, regardless of your party affiliation, who attended caucus meetings last week. The very survival of our republic depends on citizens who take part in the process to elect folks who will take your principles and views to county, state and national forums. From my own experience, public service is fascinating and rewarding. Take the time to know your candidates and advocate for the things that you care about. You can make a difference.

 Good news on my public lands crusade. I was pleased that the governor hired John Swartout as a permanent member of his policy office. John is an excellent choice to work on federal land issues that affect western Colorado. I’m glad to see progress toward better and stronger coordination with our federal partners. I’ve worked on this issue with a lot of help for two years, and now I’ll work closely with John on the many federal land issues ahead. I’m of course disappointed that the administration chose to oppose and defeat my bill to establish the same position in a less political, nonpartisan and more collaborative structure. It’s critical that we protect our environment, but we also have to listen to the concerns of all of the citizens who live, work and play on or near public lands.

 I’m asking the governor to come out west to talk about our jobs and economy along with Club 20 and other Western Slope legislators. While the Front Range is reportedly recovering from the recession, our part of the state is not. I believe it’s time to move from grand plans and endless meetings to very specific actions that will bring a vibrant economy back to the Western Slope. I and my fellow legislators will ask for a set of actions that will get western Colorado moving.

 We have a serious problem, especially in Garfield County with the insurance rates that apply under the Affordable Care Act. The Garfield County commissioners are working on this issue diligently, and I’ll support them if legislation is an option.

 Two important education bills were moving through the legislative process this past week. HB-14 1298: Financing of Public Schools and HB 14-1292: the Student Success Act were discussed in a six-and-a-half-hour hearing in the House Education Committee. The two bills taken together increase funding for student count and inflation and then add money to offset some of what’s known as the “negative factor,” cuts taken to the statutorily required funding level during the recession. Additional funding is added for specific programs like spending transparency and English learning. I’m getting a lot of constituent input on these bills. I’ll watch them and their impact on our rural school districts carefully as amendments and fiscal notes emerge when they move through the legislative process. If you would like to follow these bills, and others, you can do so on the legislative website: www.leg.state.co.us. You can listen online to all committee meetings and watch what happens in the Senate and House Chambers. The calendar for each chamber is posted by 8 a.m. daily.

 In other news: I led a memorial for former congressman and neighbor Mike Strang, who recently passed away; the town of Rifle was here to receive a grant to do a cyber-security assessment; the Grand Junction Chamber met with legislators; and the CMC trustees and new president were in town. We have large groups visiting the capitol every day, and the chamber and hallways are packed.

 Thanks for your continued support and interest in Colorado’s legislature. Don’t Hesitate to call or email any time. I need and welcome your input in order to stay in touch with western Colorado.

 
February 2014

 Hoping that fewer bills are killed or passed along party lines this year

 Many thanks to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent for the continuing opportunity to update readers on the state Legislature. The legislative session is under way. Lots of bills have been introduced, and I’ve already presented my most important bills. While not as contentious a session as last year, too many bills end up passed or killed along party-line votes. Revenues are up from previous years, so there are lots of ideas on how to spend what will probably be one-time money.

 Joyce and I enjoy the change to city life for a few months, but we rarely have time to take advantage of Denver attractions because of the intense calendar surrounding the legislative session.

 My bill to put the new Colorado brand to a vote of the people was defeated in committee by a party-line vote. The new logo, if you haven’t seen it, is a copy of the red carbon monoxide warning symbol, only green.

 My side of the aisle continues to ask for repeal of the controversial gun control laws from last year that led to two recall elections. We also want the mandates for renewable energy quotas for rural energy modified to be achievable and include hydro, but these efforts are being defeated on party-line votes.

 The implementation of last year’s drastic change to election law continues to draw attention and proposed legislation. I serve on the commission to oversee the implementation, so I have a particular interest. It seems that every election since the bill passed has ended in litigation over voter eligibility or suspected mistakes by the clerks. I am also concerned that the computer software being rewritten for this November won’t be ready in time for the election.

 In addition to my duties on the Agriculture and Local Affairs committees, I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Joint Budget Committee and a new Joint Technology Committee. Colorado’s budget is complex and faces serious challenges with the growth of health care costs and the need for education funding. Learning about the issues, and sorting out the need to upgrade aging computer systems, is a challenge but one I have experience with in my career in the Aerospace industry. Additional challenges and time is spent understanding about 600 proposed bills. They are coming faster as the session progresses.

 I’ll be presenting memorials to former Gov. John Vanderhoof and former Colo. Rep. and U.S. Congressman Mike Strang in the House soon. Both are from the district I now represent, and it’s an honor to remember them as individuals and to recall examples of rich history through the contributions and service of our West Slope citizens.

 Again, it is an honor and privilege to serve the people of House District 57.

 January 2014

 
The 2014 Colorado legislative session is under way

 It’s been a busy, exciting and motivating couple of weeks.  I was in Craig, Parachute, Rifle, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale for town hall meetings and then we had a typical winter driving experience as we moved to a Denver apartment for the start of the 2014 legislative session.

 Then, after two days of committee sessions, various meetings and social events, the session kicked on Wednesday the 8th.  Speeches by the Speaker and the Minority Leader followed by the Governor’s state of the State speech on Thursday set the tone for the next 118 days.

 Making the transition from traveling District 57 to working on budget and bill issues at the Capitol was like moving between different universes, and that’s the theme of this session for me. While the Front Range metropolitan locales are recovering from the recession fairly well, western Colorado is not sharing the prosperity.

 I heard from folks in Craig that pressures on the use of coal and the increased mandate for renewable energy is threatening their very existence as a community. The potential listing of Sage Grouse as an endangered species heighten that threat.

 Parachute and Rifle citizens are concerned about the declining gas drilling activity and resulting economic impacts. They are still upset over gun control measures and want repeal of 2013 legislation. Insurance rates which are unfair to rural Colorado are a huge problem.

 In Glenwood Springs, we talked about education reform and Marijuana regulation. The tourism economy is a major factor in Glenwood.

 Carbondale attendees were concerned about environmental issues including the Thompson Divide but also repeated education and health insurance rates as their most important issues.

 Back to Denver and the openings day’s speeches. While the Democrats would like to move on from last year’s controversies, it’s clear that the Republicans will revisit and attempt to rectify what we consider to be lingering mistakes and issues.  Watch for a bevy of bills to change renewable energy mandates, implement the best of the educations reforms from last year, repeal gun laws and clean up elections laws.

 The political parties will work together on disaster recovery but battle over how to spend the additional revenues from this year’s collections. We agree that we have to increase reserves for the next recession and future budgets.  The growth of health care costs and the need for transportation and education funding combined with TABOR limits, point to a revenue crisis in the near future.

 Meanwhile Colorado will continue to make news on the national scene because of recalls, marijuana, flood and fires, secession attempts, and tax initiatives.  Stay tuned.

 I’ll try to keep you posted as the session progresses through these columns and my face book posts.  A special thanks to the Post Independent for their advertising of the events in Garfield County. Please monitor your favorite or most hated bills through the general assembly’s web site, www.leg.state.co.us, and let me know by email what you’re thinking. It continues to be a pleasure and an honor to serve you.

 

National issues:

As a state legislator, I can’t have direct impact on the big national issues.  But every action that we take at the State level should always be considered in the context of how national issues will affect us through mandates and public policy.  I have an obligation to understand national issues and consider state actions in the appropriate context.

A state legislator can also shine a spotlight on local impacts and influence our congressmen and senators to act in our interests.

Some of the National issues that affect Colorado are:

  • Lack of a Budget and the deficit
  • National Defense
  • Energy Policy
  • Public lands management
  • Health care and the unknowns of Obamacare
  • Education mandates

The Big State Issues:

There are some big and important issues in Colorado that are being addressed by the state government.  These issues may take years and multiple sessions of the legislature to resolve.  As a state legislator I will be involved in incremental efforts to find solutions.

Examples are:

  • Budget constraints under constitutional mandates
  • The Initiative process
  • Water Policy and law
  • Education funding and reform
  • PERA visibility and solvency
  • Tourism promotion
  • Transportation Infrastructure funding

 

Bills and issues in the 2012 state legislative session

State legislators deal with a myriad of bills covering a wide range of subjects every year.  As a Western Slope legislator outnumbered by representatives of urban areas, I will be defending the interests of the energy industry, agriculture, tourism, ranching, and water issues unique to our area. I will also be fighting to reduce regulation and red tape that hurts the many small businesses that support our economy.

Examples of issues being regularly addressed in the current state legislative session are:

  • The state’s budget
  • New energy regulation demands as the industry expands
  • Waste water and air quality rules
  • Costs of new regulation
  • Removal of unnecessary rules and regulations
  • Changes in Medicaid management and policies
  • Election transparency and integrity
  • Law enforcement and corrections
  • Federal mandates and funding
  • State department and agency oversight
  • Education funding and oversight


Moffat County

Lincoln Day Dinner Remarks

Bob Rankin, Candidate for House District 57

January 21, 2012

Thank you for inviting Joyce and me and for being here at the Moffat County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner.

And thank you, in advance, for participating in the upcoming caucus, assembly, and election process.  I know you are here because you know it matters and you know that together we can make a difference.

As I’ve gotten to know and love western Colorado over 25 years of living in the state,  I’ve thought a lot about how rural towns and farms and ranches relate to American life and culture that has become so centered on cities.

While New York and San Francisco and Denver may be the heartbeat of the nation, small towns and rural communities are the heritage, the very soul of America.

But seeing your coal mines again, knowing about your oil and gas industry and having toured the Tri State power plant last year, I’ve decided that Moffat County, while still providing a lot of heritage and soul, is also the muscle.

We share a common concern that our values, our lives, our country are in great peril.

We have a government that has grown beyond reason starting with the progressive movement of the early 1900’s.

We have a President who has never had a real job or served in the military and who wants to remake America in his and his constituent’s utopian fantasy of a country controlled by wise and fair bureaucrats.

We have a populace that is largely unschooled in the founding miracle of our country and its constitution, a populace that has been trained to depend on an entitlement culture.

We’ve racked up 15 trillion dollars in debt to fuel those notions.

We seem confused about the meaning of Capitalism.  Does crony capitalism now replace the free market?

Jobs are being replaced by computers and our education system can’t keep up.

We have no energy policy and our government seeks to punish and eliminate fossil fuels with no viable replacement.  The Keystone pipeline and our own Vermillion basin are examples of a federal government policy based on extreme environmentalism rather than rationality.

Uncertainty exists at every turn.

And it’s not like we weren’t warned.  Frederick Hayek’s great work, The Road to Serfdom, clearly shows that central control leads to tyranny.  I’m reading Mark Levin’s new book Ameritopia, which captures the fallacy of trying to achieve a utopian society through government control.

And yet, I‘m optimistic

Because of our perils, because folks across America are expressing their frustration and protesting that we are “Taxed Enough Already”, more Americans are paying attention to the constitution, asking what capitalism really means, thinking about basic economic principles, understanding the consequences of debt, and paying attention to what is happening in Europe.  I believe the pendulum is swinging toward the principles and ideals of conservatism.  Unfortunately we have a long way to go.  We may not see the America we want for decades, but we can push the pendulum.

We can all make a difference and we have a responsibility

Despite the fact that the news media focuses on national issues, many things are within our control and more should be.  Why not use our discontent as inspiration for action?  Is it more meaningful to yell at the television or to be a conservative activist?  Which makes you feel better at the end of the day?

We can educate ourselves first, and enforce our values.

We can test our candidates against our values and aspirations.  We are seeing in the ongoing presidential debates that No candidate will be perfect, but we can ask who will advance our cause most effectively.  Will the potential office holders actually make a difference or just slow the slide toward socialism?  In our county we achieve change by moving the pendulum in our direction, not through swift revolution, as much as we would like to revolt as times.

We can run for office and encourage others to do the same.  We can challenge our fellow citizens whether they are undecided independents or misguided democrats.

The questions for us at the County and State level in the face of an overreaching government are:

 1. What can we control locally and how should we use that control?
2.  How do we get more local control over the issues that affect us?
3. How do we most effectively influence state and national issues?

Let’s talk about some of the issues and what we can do about them.

Natural Resources
Coal, gas and oil and shale are the future of energy for years.  There aren’t many places like Moffat County in the world.  You have done a magnificent job of planning and advocating for development that will support your economy and the nation’s energy needs only to be ignored and overturned in the Vermillion decision for political reasons.  State officials should be a lot more active in pushing back against unreasonable federal rulings.  I will help you push back against political decisions that hurt your economy. This will be one of my highest priorities. 

Jobs and the economy
Energy jobs and in fact, all businesses are affected by excessive regulation, taxes and uncertainties that are killing jobs.  I will join with other Republican legislators and a few Democrats to remove regulations, fees, and red tape.

Water
Water issues should be high on the list of every west slope legislator.  High on my list is getting know the fly fisherman in the district who may be willing to share their secret spot.  The Colorado River cooperative agreement is nearing completion this year. I favor, and I will work with, local organizations formed to educate and advocate for the issues surrounding the whole watershed.  Joyce and I are active supporters of the Roaring fork conservancy.           

Education
There is no better example of the failure of centralized, one size fits all big government policy than the American education system.  We are failing our children, our teachers and our country.  We must reform and upgrade our curriculum and the teaching profession and motivate more of our kids to value an education in the skills needed for the future.  This is a bipartisan effort at both national and state levels to revitalize and reform education.  Every parent, every school board every teacher and every citizen should care.  I’m motivated toward educational reform by my wife who is a retired teacher and principal.  I will support our public school system while advocating positive changes.  Senate Bill 10-191 is being implemented, in steps over union objections, to better evaluate and reward teachers.

Why me?
I want to represent you in the Colorado house.  That means I want to build on my knowledge and skills by listening to you, learning from you, and forming a partnership with leaders and professionals in our district.  I will build relationships in Denver, argue and convince on your behalf, and vote your principles.

I’m a retired business executive and small business entrepreneur

I want to make as much of a difference as I can.

I believe in public service.  I served in the United States Army during Viet Nam and I look forward to working for you in the Colorado House as another way to serve.

Joyce and I are looking forward to getting to know you and work with you.

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you and start that process.