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 running for his 4th term in the state Legislature representing House 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.  He is up for re-election on November 6, 2018

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.