Senator Bob Rankin, District 8

Issues

“Under the Dome” appears in Garfield County’s Glenwood Springs Post Independent on the third Wednesday of the month. It can also be seen throughout newspapers in Senate District 8

 
At the beginning of the 2019 legislative session, Representative Rankin was appointed to the Senate.  Senator Rankin now represents Moffat, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Grand, Routt, Summit and Jackson Counties.  He remains Senior Statesman on the Joint Budget Committee.

Below you will find monthly columns that he has written during his time in the House of Representatives (HD 57) and Senate (SD 8).  

February 2020

Moving right along

This is probably the busiest time of the year at the Colorado legislature. Every Representative and Senator is trying to get at least one of their great idea bills passed while looking suspiciously across the aisle to see what's coming next. 

The Joint Budget Committee (where I dedicate most of my time) is spending money while balancing the thirty-four billion dollar budget and struggling to listen and incorporate the other ninety-four legislator's priorities. We just finished "truing up" the 19-20 budget, and now we're grinding through the requests and issues to fund the hundreds of "Line Items" that will keep the wheels turning in 20/21. Less available spendable revue for next year will cause some highly visible requests to be denied, and those actions will likely hit the news in the next few weeks.  Transportation and education (K12 and higher ed) will continue to take the hits since we can’t control the other biggies like Medicaid spending.

Looming controversial bills are much anticipated.  We expect a family leave bill, transition from private to public prisons, a "public option" for health care, and a few others to be debated.

I’m working with county commissioners to get a bill moving that will help northwest Colorado transition away from coal and gas production.  While I believe that the ideas and leadership for change must come from the towns and counties, the state does have resources to help plan and fund projects.

I'm starting the stakeholder process next week on a bill titled "Total Cost of Health Care Expenditure Targets." The concept is to assemble all of the parties involved and agree on goals, benchmarks, and methods to control the cost of care.  Our task is to alleviate the disastrous impact on our families.  This approach has been used in other states, but we have to design our own implementation carefully. I'm excited and honored to be leading the charge. The bill will not include government price controls or mandatory participation by providers.

I've already lost one bill with which I attempted to exclude additional small business owners from having to calculate and remit taxes from items that they sell and mail to a different location in the state.  But it was at least referred to a task force for study. And I have one bill successfully through committee that requires parental notification if a school employee is charged with supplying alcohol or marijuana to students.

I'm also co-sponsoring bills to support adult education, search and rescue, short term rental licensing, Parks and Wildlife, and a few others.

I'm continuing to serve as the co-chair of the Education Leadership Council and to push us toward a vision for the future and away from the next funding cycle or grant program.

With the JBC and other legislators, I hope to begin to eliminate the three thousand person waiting list for Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled individuals who should be receiving Medicaid services.

January 2020

Other People’s Money

I saw this title on the spine of a book in the office of a Governor whose name I won’t reveal.  It’s the right message to keep in mind for Colorado State Government and the Joint Budget Committee as we construct the budget, my sixth as a member of the Joint Budget Committee, that will control spending from July 2020 to June 2021 and make corrections to the 2019-2020 budget. We’ll plan to spend about $34 Billion (that’s with a B). Colorado’s budgeting process has been called the most complex in the nation and we work hard to make it as visible and accountable as possible. It will be tighter this year.  After growing spending at about 6% in previous years, we will only have about 3% for this budget.  We clearly cannot fill all the requests and suggestions that we’re reviewing.

Meanwhile across the street, bills by individual legislators and interim committees are being introduced and the partisan battle lines are forming. As a member of our senate caucus leadership, I’m sure I’ll be in the thick of it to defend personal freedom, free markets, and keep government small. 

Nevertheless, I intend to stick to my objective of getting some good and important things done despite late nights, chaos, media, and excessive verbosity. Education, transportation funding, and health care costs are truly bipartisan issues.  I’ll be introducing a bill that will call for broad cooperation across all stakeholders to reduce the total cost of health care and achieve statewide goals through transparency and commitments from providers. I’ll continue to work for education reform and sensible education funding as the co-chair of the Education Leadership Council. And I want to work with the budget committee to reduce the waiting list for services to those individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

What the public doesn’t often see are the hundreds of bills that don’t rise to the level of discord and ideological disagreement that the press loves to report.  As rural and western legislators, those few of us are outnumbered but not forgotten.  We have a particular task of reviewing every bill introduced by our front range friends for its impact on our communities.  Our regional interests are often worthy of amendments and influence our votes.

The Tri-State announcement last week that the Craig mines and power station will close earlier than expected is a major blow to Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, the counties that I represent.  I’ll be advocating and sponsoring legislation that will do everything possible to support the impacted people in those communities.  If our state is to be a leader in transition to renewables, let’s also be a leader in helping struggling communities.

And the campaign season is upon us.  I’ll be on the road and knocking on doors. In my earlier days as an engineer and corporate executive, I never would have imagined that I or anyone else would actually enjoy such personal exposure and sometimes criticism.  But I do. 

I look forward to meeting and talking with more of my constituents of rural and resort communities in Colorado. I plan on continuing to represent you.  But until then, keep the encouragement and criticism flowing. 

December 2019

I DON’T WANT TO WRITE THIS COLUMN

Just kidding.  I’ve been submitting an article every month for almost eight years.  It’s always a struggle to anticipate what my legions of loyal readers want (or need) to know about state government or about the adventures of Bob and Joyce as they dive ever deeper into the political abyss.  So I’m starting to write with an unusual lack of enthusiasm.  Let’s see how it goes.

Today I'm fighting a cold garnered from who knows which handshake, avoiding national "news," reading about a hundred pages to prepare for Joint Budget hearings on education, and trying to finish in time to watch the Broncos and their new hope for a quarterback.

So what do potential readers really care about today?  Forget impeachment.  How about the 34 billion dollar state budget?  After growing about 6% for the last several years, it's flattening to 3% this year.  The big items that dominate all else are school finance at 8 billion, health care, and prisons.   At the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), we’ve been working since early November to turn the Governor’s “suggestions” into a budget that we can recommend to the legislature during the session. Budget is policy, and I've been privileged to support my Senate and House caucuses by representing us on the budget committee for the last six years.

Or how about upcoming state elections.  Vote for me!! But do start to pay attention.  Plenty of good candidates from both sides will make a lot of promises and provide questionable information about their opposition.

We, legislators, are starting to focus on our bills for the session. Each legislator can propose five bills, and many bills will emerge from an almost record number of interim committees. I'm planning to offer a significant initiative to attack health care costs to follow up on my work on transparency and reinsurance. I'll also work through the JBC to provide a bill that will eliminate the waiting list for intellectually and developmentally disabled people waiting for Medicaid services.

I still co-chair the Education Leadership Council, the “vision” place for our education system from birth to retraining as an adult.  We made great strides in the last two years, reaching out to the public and influencing legislation.

And of course, we’ll have some fights over “guns and butter," namely a proposal for state-run family leave, a public option for health insurance, more gun control, etc., etc. But hopefully, we'll find some new agreement on school funding and money for roads.

Well, that wasn't too bad, I hope.  Just in time for the Broncos!  Keep those e-mails coming.  Remember, I don't work for the government. I work for the people.  That would be YOU.

November 2019  I LOVE COLORADO

Why would anyone serve in an elected office?  What motivates us to become public figures, meet hundreds or maybe thousands of new friends and acquaintances, stand up for our principles against criticism, give up time spent on hobbies and favorite recreation, and miss friends who aren't interested in what we do anymore?

Is it a love of place, the people we meet, and sometimes help through their problems, or is it the task itself, understanding complex problems and passing bills, or maybe being thanked and applauded when we succeed or exert a valiant effort trying? I'm incredibly narcissistic, even asking the question, however since I'm on my eighth year in office and about to run again, I'll take the liberty of burdening you, my loyal readers with some reflection.

I'm convinced that I represent the most naturally beautiful state senate district in the nation.  From the ski slopes of Breckinridge to the dinosaur bones in the national monument named for them, there's an abundance of visual delights and adventures just waiting. Wildlife roams the mountains and the occasional flat spot to equal the plains of Africa. 

And then there are the people who live there, work there, and love western Colorado. Ski bums, hoteliers, coal miners, gas well drillers, and a few fourth and fifth-generation ranchers. And the law enforcement, fire-fighters, school teachers, and municipal employees that keep it glued together.

I love working for this place and these people. Politics matter and principles matter, but there’s common ground around the problems of rural and western Colorado. We may have different solutions and different hopes and expectations about the future, still, we have work to do together that translates into bills and spending priorities at the State House.

I've focused on fair treatment for our rural schools, the cost, and accessibility of health care, maintenance of rural roads, care for disabled citizens and public lands issues, with diversions, of course, to support other legislators and their issues.  I'll continue to work for economic development to keep our communities prosperous and defend our jobs and infrastructure from damage resulting from a focus on front range growth.

We aren’t unique. Challenges for rural communities exist all across the United States but are exacerbated in Colorado by geography and the successes of our front range. Our western slope and eastern plains legislators go to Denver outnumbered but with a sense of purpose that transcends party politics and personal bias.  We examine every bill and create a few of our own to bring attention to our unique issues to support our citizens.


But I'm convinced that local solutions are often more effective than new state laws or "one size fits all" statewide programs. Whether it's local control of school boards, housing solutions, local health care cooperatives, economic development, or county government, our western tradition shines through. I'll continue to support the right blend of state support to local solutions and consider every state bill from that perspective.

So thank you for your support and please, I invite you to find that love of place and get involved locally. 

September 2019

Summer’s over….Back to Work!

The "out of session season" is winding down. back to work on the Joint Budget Committee starting on November 12. But last month, there was still time to travel, listen, and learn. The highlights included a visit to Ms. Smalley's Advanced Placement Social Studies class at Glenwood Springs High School, fishing and learning about water projects with Paul Bruchez in Grand County, a day with the Outdoor Industry Leaders in Glenwood Springs, the El Pomar Foundation yearly conference, a kickoff meeting of the Education Leadership Council, a press conference to announce new rates for private market insurance (down by 34% in my senate district), a town hall in Granby and two trips with the JBC to state-funded facilities and institutions.

I'm also spending time on rural economic development, specifically focused on Craig, Hayden, Rangely, and Meeker, as they anticipate being impacted by changing from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

And numerous visits with constituents.  It’s great to have time to dig in and understand issues and problems in depth and to see local solutions crafted by towns, counties, and community organizations.

Meanwhile, back in Denver, "Bills and Budgets" for the next legislative session are shaping up.  I'll have more next month on my growing list. The Budget Committee reviewed the revenue forecast for next year on September 20, and we get the governor's budget proposal on November 1.  Our state economists are predicting a slowing of revenue growth but not a recession.  The legislature has created new programs in the last few years. Those programs now have continuing spending needs, and we still have structural problems with school funding and transportation. I continue to ask for estimates of the impact from increased regulation on oil, gas, and coal, but the answer is that we don't know enough yet to factor that into our forecasts. Stay tuned.

So, the ballots are arriving in our mailboxes.  Should we vote to allow the state to keep and spend revenue above the TABOR spending limit?  Should we allow betting on sports events and collect a ten percent tax to be spent on water projects? Do I have an opinion?  Of course, I do.

We do need to fund the state’s water plan and to prepare for future demands for water downstream to California. But even if you believe sports betting is a proper source for water projects, and you vote for proposition DD, be aware that this is just a down payment on the long term need of $100 million per year.  I'm reminded of the promise that marijuana would pay for K12 education and that it now contributes about 1%. 

Proposition CC evokes considerable dissension.  The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is almost sacred to us fiscal conservatives, and this measure removes one of the necessary protections to limit the growth of government. But government does grow, sometimes by adding new projects or programs and often through unplanned structural changes. A good example is property tax contribution to school finance, which has dropped to 40% of the total from 60% a few years ago, and the state must make up the billion-dollar difference.  TABOR allows for the growth of the existing government of about 3.5% a year.  Through various changes to the TABOR limit and as we caught up to the TABOR limit, the general fund budget has grown by about 6% in recent years. The question is: "Do we allow the state to keep an uncertain amount of TABOR excess revenue to pay for this growth, or do we fix the underlying issues of funding specifically for water, education, and transportation?"  It's much harder to find sources of funding for water, education, and transportation, but do we leave those problems for future legislatures? I'll vote no on CC because I want to force real solutions.

Well, I obviously, to myself at least, am earning my salary.  But Joyce and I enjoy our travels and the people we meet.  The colors weren't bad this year, either. Keep the emails coming.

 Under The Dome September 2019

THE BEST SOLUTIONS ARE LOCAL

During the legislative session and even before it starts as legislators envision new bills and my Joint Budget Committee structures spending, the legislature looks for solutions to big statewide problems like housing, education funding, and health care. 

But during the offseason, when I visit my far-flung rural and western district, I realize that local governments, nonprofits and citizen's groups know their local issues best and are taking action often without state government involvement. That realization gives me a newfound sense of humility and an understanding of the dramatic differences in the problems and solutions in widely separated and demographically diverse communities.  One size definitely does not fit all.

Health Care

I was proud to be a sponsor of the "reinsurance bill" in the last session.  That bill will reduce private insurance rates by up to 30% throughout my district.  But in Summit county, the local initiative Peak Alliance, led by CEO Tammara Drangstveit, will add another 11% for a total savings of 41%. A remarkable achievement after years of unaffordable health care. Using this local model, consumers started by banding together. They got the best deal they could from hospitals, and then they asked insurance companies to bid for their business. The more people in the alliance and the more leverage they can exert, the better deal they get. Can other communities use this model?  Several are now investigating the possibility.

Housing

Along with health care, housing costs are a growing crisis in the lives of our working families in Colorado.  Although the problem is statewide and affects urban cities, resort communities and rural towns have some unique issues and answers.

The Town of Granby scored big by purchasing property and water rights from a failed development. Led by mayor Paul Chavoustie, Granby then put out a request for a buyer, proposing an RV resort with a mix of camping sites and cabins. The plan was to cluster as many visitors as possible on a portion of the parcel and retain the rest as open space for recreation and perhaps affordable housing for Granby citizens. The town sold the property and another parcel at a profit with an agreement that it would include 310 affordably priced homes in addition to the RV and cabin resort.

“It worked out really well for us,” said Granby Town Manager Aaron Blair in a recent news article.

In my own Roaring Fork Valley, there is an acute need for housing for middle-income workers who provide vital services to our community. Scott Gilbert who heads Habitat for Humanity in my neighborhood has led an extraordinary collaboration with the Roaring Fork School District, Pitkin County, and the Town of Basalt, to build the Basalt Vista Housing Partnership which will provide 27 affordable homes for teachers and others in our local workforce. This may be a model that could be adopted in communities throughout Colorado and across the country.

  • Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley is the builder and will facilitate access to mortgages, raise funds to cover the $75,000 gap between construction costs and the reduced sales prices for each home through donations from individuals, foundations, and local businesses; as well as proceeds from the ReStore.
  • Our school district provided seven acres of land adjacent to Basalt High School; valued at $3.2 million. Pitkin County funded the infrastructure costs (roads and utilities) totaling $3 million. The Town of Basalt contributed in the form of reduced fees. 

These are just three examples of local action with a high payoff.  Colorado's constitution specifies local control and our 64 counties and 178 school districts, as well as thousands of special districts, insist on the maximum flexibility from state laws and regulations.  And they have good answers. We should always look to local leadership and solutions as a first choice.

Tell me about your local solutions and how I can help from Denver as I continue to have the honor of representing you.

Under the dome, August 2019, Senator Rankin

Summer: time to travel, listen and learn.

My senate colleagues from the Denver or Colorado Springs area can describe their districts by the streets that bound the communities that they represent.  When they ask me about my district, I mention the borders of Wyoming and Utah and the continental divide.  Their events are minutes apart, and mine are hours.  I'm not complaining.  I would challenge any state senator in the country to represent an area as rich in natural beauty and wonderful citizens.

In between a couple of short vacations and constant demands in Denver, Joyce and I throw the fly rods in the SUV and hit the road.

In Denver, we wrapped up a program that I co-sponsor that brings engineering students to the capitol every summer to learn and contribute ideas.  I enjoy their scientific approach to policy.  Is “political science” actually science?

Meetings also included meeting with, and getting to know, the new department directors who came on board with the new administration.  I'm concerned about some information technology dilemmas that I expect to surface this fall. We discussed those issues and their plans for their departments.

I hit the road to attend the opening of a combined law enforcement center in Steamboat Springs. A great partnership between county and city to combine resources.

Then driving over to Craig for a visit by state officials to help the town with the transition from a coal-based economy to ?.

Rangely was the next destination where the aviation school at Colorado Northwest Community College is adding a seaplane component to their already excellent program.  I was able to ride with students in two of the airplanes.  One plane was flown from land and the other from a seaplane in the Kenney reservoir.

On the next trip, I visited a lodge owner in Grand Lake who is suffering a loss of business to short term rentals.  What should we do about the unfairness of the different taxes paid by commercial enterprises and those paid by short term rentals?

With the mayor of Grandby, I saw a fantastic development that includes a resort complex and also provides affordable housing to residents.  A unique local solution to the housing needs of a resort town.

Back in Denver, the Joint Budget Committee held a day on interviews for a new Staff Director.  Our current Director is leaving after 22 years, so it's a significant change for us.

And in Denver a meeting with Colorado Counties Inc.  They represent and coordinate the needs of the county governments throughout the state.  I rely on them every session to advocate and testify on behalf of rural and western Colorado.

We are preparing for a meeting of the Education Leadership Council that I Co-chair.  We will be emphasizing four initiatives for next year and will be working with education committees and other legislators to influence new legislation again during the next session.

Off to wonderful Breckinridge to attend the Rural School Alliance portion of the Colorado Association of School Executives conference. I'll continue to find ways to fund and support our rural and often small districts.

Joyce and I attended an event for Asendigo, one of our favorite hometown institutions that takes care of children and adults who have Autism. Asendigo has a great group of parents and supporters.

That's roughly half of last month's meetings and visits, so you see this part-time job has turned into a passion, no longer a mere interest.  This narrative does not, by the way, include Joyce's work on the board of education.

As we prepare for the next session and the budget work starting in November, get your issue on my list.  But remember smaller government, individual freedom, free markets.

Under the dome July 2019

Recalls, special sessions, Petitions, campaigns, Tweets, Facebook, CNN, Fox news.  Yikes, let's go fishing. Sometimes it's just overwhelming. Madison talks about factions in politics in Federalist 10, and we've always had quarreling factions in American politics, but it seems that right now we have enough friction between factions to start a forest fire (at least there are no big actual forest fires yet this year).

I debate with myself about what to talk about in the many town halls and civic meetings where I get to choose the topic.  I usually lose the debate and try to cover everything (a mistake). What’s more fun though is to skip the bad stuff and talk about the good.  Or at least the things I’m doing that I think are good.

I’m continuing as the co-chair, with the commissioner of education Dr. Anthes, of the Education Leadership Council.  It's a bipartisan council made up of educators and stakeholders from across a broad spectrum with the mission of guiding the future of education in Colorado.  We had a significant influence on bills in the 2019 legislative session, including two that I sponsored along with bipartisan members of both houses.  The Reading to Ensure Academic Development or "READ" act passed both houses unanimously (unusual to say the least for a big expensive bill).  We plan to continue the council with emphasis on four areas; reading, early childhood programs, transition to higher education and community involvement.

I believe we made significant steps during the session to lower health care costs, a major issue in western and rural Colorado that I've been working on for years. The reinsurance bill will reduce the costs of individual premiums by over 25% starting next year based on supporting actuarial analysis. Reinsurance is just a band-aid on the Affordable Care Act and underlying costs, so we have to continue to work on the cost issue.

Bills and resulting actions on transparency, enacted with the cooperation of the Colorado Hospital Association will help both state programs, group policy purchasers, and allow individuals to shop for the best quality service at the best price. And the issue is not the same across the state.  We find significant variations between geographic areas because of access and utilization.  Local cooperatives, like the Summit County initiative, can use transparent data to negotiate with providers. I'm looking for good news as the reinsurance program kicks in and local cooperatives take the lead to provide quality health care access at a fair cost.

I'll be going into my sixth year as a member of the Joint Budget Committee.  I'll keep advocating and voting for rural and western Colorado as we start up the process in November. We've had several exceptionally good budget years, and I'm concerned that we have overcommitted going forward, but we have added most of the new funding to roads and schools. We will be budgeting about forty billion, approximately thirteen billion of which is from income and sales tax.  That's a lot of money, but there's less flexibility than we would like because of Federal programs and programs in existing law.

Joyce and I will be on the road when we don't have to be in Denver, so we hope to see a lot of our constituents this summer.

Under the Dome June 2019

What should I worry about now?

Back from Vacation and time to reengage.  Time to sort out the issues, make a list, set some priorities, and go to work and worry.  Or at least start to think seriously about a summer schedule and next year's legislative session, which will begin all too soon for me and the rest of the Joint Budget Committee in early November.

As a well-trained ex-engineer, I should start at the top and break down my worries into buckets and then problems to be solved.  It worked in a former life, why won't it work in the political process. It seems like there’s a surprise around every corner and always somebody with a different opinion. Always exciting.

Here are my big buckets and the questions that trouble me.

Being in the minority:

How many surprise contentious bills does the majority party have ready for next year.  This last session was brutal. Can we continue to find agreement on issues and solve problems in arenas like health care and education? Will I get enough sleep?

The budget:

The economic forecast has improved for the short term, but revenue growth is slowing. Can we maintain the level of spending that we have now committed to after two exceptional years of rapidly increasing budget?

Education:

We unanimously passed a bill to upgrade reading education and teacher preparation.  We increased funding for teacher pay.  What can we take on next? I’ll continue to co-chair the Education Leadership Council.

Taxes and school funding:

I’m still committed to a Gallagher repeal amendment referendum to stabilize taxes for the rural areas that I represent.  Will a full TABOR repeal make it to the ballot or will the TABOR revenue retention bill referred by the legislature pass this fall?  Is there any way to fix the disparity in property taxes supporting K12 schools across the state?

Cost of health care and access:

We made significant bipartisan progress last year.  Will the federal government approve Colorado’s reinsurance proposal?  Will local cooperatives like Summit county's Peak Alliance be an answer?

The environment and fossil fuels:

With the legislation from the past session, major changes are coming to the regulation of oil and gas, and coal-powered electricity.  What will be the impact on utility costs, jobs, and tax returns? Can we achieve the goals of transition to renewable energy sources?

Roads and Bridges:

We were able to provide increased funding during budget formulation in the last two years, and we delayed a major debate about a long term plan until next year. How we can we fund transportation.  What should be the mix of modalities and what priorities do we assign to the many unmet needs?

Re-election:

I need to get re-elected so I can continue to worry.

I bet you don’t all agree on the answers to my worries and I’m sure you have others.  I'm open to expanding the list, and I can take disagreement after seven years in the legislature.  Please drop me an email.   

May 2019

Under the Dome by Senator Bob Rankin

Well, one of the most contentious sessions in the history of the Colorado Legislature has come to a close, not with a bang but almost a whimper and we were all headed home before midnight on the last day.  I’m not sure whether to report on the bad, the good or the just plain ugly moments.

I’ll start with some of the best.  My high school interns from Glenwood Springs under their teacher Christine Smalley wrote me letters every Friday and visited the Capitol. Thanks to Ashley Urrutia, Ashley Weir, Hannah Worline, Isabelle Lorah, Linnaea Petterson, and Mariana Ruiz, I felt like I was in touch with the people I attempt to represent in Denver.

I moved to the Senate in January after going to work in November on the Joint Budget Committee as a Representative.  Since I was able to become the Senate member of the JBC, my committee role didn’t change that much, but I started to work with a great group of Senators and become part of their team. Under very trying circumstances as the minority, I know that we did an exceptional job of standing up for the people who elected us. And we all worked hard.  I got home one morning at 5:30 after an all-night session and Joyce was already up drinking coffee.

But I don’t want to dwell on the negatives.  Plenty of news reporters were around to capture our differences.  Instead, I would like to report on some bipartisan efforts that I worked on, and that resulted in new laws to help rural Colorado and the western slope. Since I’m the only JBC member from rural or western parts of the state, I have a special obligation to stand up for us in committee and on the floor of the Senate and to work hard on these issues.

First on my list of really good bills, amid turmoil, is a bill to enact a reinsurance program that will finally give some relief to families that must purchase their health insurance.  Reinsurance insures the insurance carrier against very high-cost claims. With the help of both parties and both houses and the governor’s office as well as the Colorado Hospital Association, we were able to find a way to fund the program.  A special shout out to Representative Julie McCloskey whose district overlaps mine and for her work on this one. If all goes well with federal approvals,  we’ll see about a 30% cost reduction for premiums on the western slope starting next January.

My second whoopie is the READ act (revisited).  This bill updates a bill first passed in 2012 to ensure that our kids can read proficiently at the third grade.  We weren’t making progress but saw that some of our schools and other states know how to use the science of reading instruction to help every child. This turned out to be an awe-inspiring collaboration of almost every education advocacy group in the state.  It passed both houses with a unanimous vote, a welcome outcome for everyone. We do agree on some things.

I was also privileged to carry several bills on behalf of the Joint Budget Committee including funding for water projects and transportation. The JBC recommended, and the legislature approved funding for full-day Kindergarten and more funding for K12 and higher education.  We are concerned about longer term sustainability and the impact of even a mild recession.

I’m enjoying the new role as your state Senator, and I’m honored to be representing so much of our beautiful state.  If you’re reading my column for the first time, let me know your reactions and tell me what I can do to be more effective as your Senator.

Under the Dome April 2019

We just returned to Denver after an all too rare visit home and to events on the Western Slope.  A quick stop in Summit County and then on to Grand Junction for Club 20’s Spring Meeting followed by the Garfield County Republican dinner in Carbondale.  It was great to see friends and escape the frantic pace of the Capitol for a couple of days.

 The 2019 legislative session is nearing an end.  Over 600 bills will have been introduced.  About 50 of them will be controversial and will engender public outrage with a lot of press coverage.  The others will be cleanups, necessary enactments or continuation of existing programs.  Some will be budget related and will fund ongoing and new spending.

Education gets a big boost next year with funding for full-day kindergarten, $120 million more for higher education and a $77 million increase for the year to year K-12 funding. I’m still working for a continuation of a 30 million dollar supplement for our rural schools.  We need a long-term fix to the formula that distributes K-12 funding and the underlying property tax contribution. It seems to me that the legislature would rather find new ideological battles than fix these long-standing Gordian knots in our constitution and statute.

Just as the legislature was making these new commitments, our March forecast for future revenue showed a leveling of growth leaving me concerned that we can pay for these new promises in the next few years.  And how do we pay for new roads and bridges?  Can we repeat the $500 Million in last year’s budget or the $300 Million in this year’s?  We need to.

I’ve been very involved in the budget process again as the longest standing member of the Joint Budget Committee, but this year it was a new experience to be a minority member since the majority in both houses results in the budget committee composed of four members from the majority and two from the minority. We still had to balance the budget and work together to do so. I’ve complemented my fellow committee members for our bipartisan work on the budget.  I wish I could say the same for other bills coming through the process.

Amid a troublesome session, I’ve been honored to carry (sponsor) several bills requested by my constituents as well as bills originating from the Joint Budget Committee.  I’m also a prime sponsor on the revised “Read Act” and several bills to address the high cost of health care.  We’re on track with bipartisan work to dramatically reduce the disparity in health insurance premiums between the front range and rural Colorado.

And I’m still learning how to be a Senator after six years in the House.  Thanks for all the support and encouragement from all of you that I’ve represented for those six years and especially from the warm welcome from all the new folks I’m meeting in the larger Senate district.  I’m receiving a lot of emails, but I promise to try and keep reading every one that’s an individual message (no use reading the same one over a hundred times).

It’s an honor to serve you.


Under the Dome March 17, 2019
First Column from the Senate

I skipped a month writing columns after six years of never missing one. If you read them let me know. I suppose it’s because I’m still adjusting to moving over to the Senate and to the fact that my party is in the minority in both houses.  I’m still on the Joint Budget Committee so that at least didn’t change except for having four of the six-members being new to the job.

I was selected in January, although narrowly, by a ten-person vacancy committee to replace resigning Senator Randy Baumgardner.  My wife Joyce applied to a subset of six of the same vacancy committee to replace me but was roundly rejected. Our District 57 went unrepresented for months and is now represented by a novice. Our vacancy committees are not large enough to reflect the will of our party or to select the most qualified candidate. Sour grapes? Maybe.

The Senate is very different from the House.  It’s quieter and more efficient, and most of us know each other from serving together in the house. It’s altogether a more pleasant place to work, and we adjourn sooner so that I can get back to the budget work.  I now represent a very large and diverse Senate district. It includes gas wells, coal mines, the greatest resort towns in the country, ranches and retirement communities. It’s a challenge but my work background, six years in the legislature, and my senior role on the budget committee should qualify me. I’ll need to be a pragmatist to have a positive effect.

The Democrats seem to have a list of issues saved up for two years that they are working through with locked in votes of their members and naught but futile protests and filibuster from our side.  So far they have passed a bill to join the popular vote (read California) in national elections. And a new set of regulations for the Oil and Gas industry that most say will dramatically impact its future (read jobs and taxes in western Colorado). Comprehensive sex education is underway and soon to come is paid family leave, red flag (gun seizure), eliminating the TABOR cap (delaying my work to repeal the Gallagher amendment while they do this), and who knows what else?  Every day is a surprise.

I’m trying in this environment to both have my say (that of my constituents) and also run some bills. I’m working on health care cost transparency and reducing the cost of health insurance in western Colorado.  I’m working with Joyce, who’s your elected member of the State Board of Education on education reform including a new approach to our failed Read Act, and a major bill on teacher preparation. I also have a bill to allow special districts for early childhood development.  I’ll be carrying many bills on behalf of the Joint Budget Committee including one related to our continuing concerns over wasteful spending on information technology. I will continue to advocate for rural Colorado on every issue including agriculture, water, education, economic development, and transportation. But the reality is that rural legislators are simply outnumbered.

The budget is interesting this year. There is a lot of money this year but new requests including $227 million for full-day Kindergarten and a continuing strong lobby for more money in education overall. I’m concerned that we don’t overcommit and have to take unpopular cuts in the future.  I’ll ask for more in transportation and to eliminate the wait list for those with developmental disabilities who need services. We see a slowing of the economy and a recession but who knows when?

If you’ve gotten this far and read my columns, send me a note: bob.rankin.senate@state.co.us

Under the dome January 2019

Transitions

 It looks like I’ll be moving from the Colorado House of Representatives to the Senate on January 22nd. All because Senator Baumgardner the current Senator representing Senate District 8 is resigning effective the 21st and a vacancy committee, meeting on January 2nd, chose me as his replacement. I’ve enjoyed six years in the house, with its 65 members, lots of turnovers every two years, members from every imaginable background and many late nights.  Even in the minority for all six years, I believe that I’ve been able to make a difference for my constituents.

I’ll stay on the Joint Budget committee as its longest-serving member and only rural member. Those roles come with some special responsibilities, and I intend to be very vocal in support of education opportunities for rural kids, rural economic development, transportation, and lower health care costs.

I’ll be representing four new counties and several tourism hubs in Senate district 8.  My six years of service on the Colorado Tourism Board will help me understand their issues. I may have to pull my skis out of storage.

I’ll continue to serve as co-chair of the Education Leadership Council.  Our new Governor has expressed interest in our work and the vision articulated for making Colorado the best state in the nation for education from early childhood to the workforce. Now that our vision has been voted on by the council and published we are creating an implementation plan.

I’m very concerned about the fairness of state and local funding for education. The Denver Post, in an editorial, has called me “a modern Robin Hood” for insisting that poor rural districts deserve funding equivalent to the rich resort and urban districts. I intend to remain a leader in this area and intensify my effort, working from the Senate, to rectify years of abuse of both taxpayers and students resulting from conflicting constitutional and legislative actions of the past. Those efforts include repealing and replacing the Gallagher amendment, bringing school taxes into equity and compensating for local mil-levy override disparities. 

I’m no longer term-limited so I have plenty of time to work on these budget crippling longstanding problems should I win reelection in 2020 and beyond.

And let’s not forget the discrimination wrought by health care disparities between the urban front range and both resort and rural Colorado. I’ll be jointly introducing bills this year that will reduce our insurance costs substantially and will start to reveal and hopefully reduce basic cost factors.

It sounds like a lot of action, you bet, meanwhile I’ll stick to my conservative principles of small government, low taxes, and personal freedom.

It’s been an honor, and hard work to represent House District 57 and the future as your Senator will be just as much so.

December 2018

Is K-12 Financing Fair to Anyone?

Amendment 73 failed at the ballot in November despite a massive effort by administrators, teachers, and their supporters to increase school funding.  I’ve consistently supported more K12 funding and specifically higher teacher pay through the state budget, but I opposed the tax structure proposed in amendment 73 that would have unfairly focused higher taxes on business and would have further exacerbated the impact of the Gallagher amendment on property tax adjustments.

There have been past efforts to increase public school K12 funding through ballot initiatives. There is also intense lobbying focused on the “negative factor” (now officially the “budget stabilization” or BS factor) to increase funding year over year through the state budget. While the ballot measures have failed, the state budget has prioritized K12 funding and the BS factor now stands at $672 million after peaking at more than $1 billion in 2014. State funding for K12 finance is forecast to increase by $248 million in the next budget. That adds to $4.5 billion in the current year for a total of $4.8 billion which then adds to $2.6 billion of local property tax for a total of $7.4 billion in total funding through the school finance formula.  But Wait! Another $1.5 Billion is raised through local Mill levy overrides that don’t often get counted.

There are ongoing efforts to “fix” school finance.  A legislative interim committee has been ineffective except to continue its own existence after two years of meetings. I’m convinced that the underlying structural and constitutional distortions of the use of local property taxes are so severe and unfair that efforts to “fix the formula” are in vain. There are two pieces to the property tax chaos.

Local property tax Mill levies contribute directly to the school finance within the formula by sharing the need for funding with the state general fund.  Those taxes vary from about 2 mils to 27 mils depending on the district. Homeowners with the same home value in different districts pay very different taxes to support their schools. The difference is the result of the interaction of the Gallagher amendment, the Taxpayer Bill of rights, and variations over time of assessed values in the district. This situation is unfair to taxpayers.

And now comes local mil levy overrides.  These are taxes voted on and passed locally to support schools over and above the formula allocation.  Because school districts have very different asset values, the opportunity to raise funds is very different. At this point, the overrides amount to $1.5 billion dollars per year and vary greatly across districts.  The result is dramatically different funding and teacher pay across school districts.  This situation is very unfair to students.

I believe the legislature needs to correct these basic problems and create a fair system before we ask our taxpayers to spend more money on K12. I’ll be working with our JBC staff to propose solutions and I’ll ask my Joint Budget Committee fellow members to join me in legislation this year.

And we need a new broad vision of the state’s future for education from early childhood to retraining in the workplace.  I’ll cover that next month.

What do you think?

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.

 

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.