It has been a hectic couple weeks at the Capitol, as it has also been budget week, which is long with many debates.
It is too bad that some amendments to the budget can be so contentious that some members lose their civility.
Before I address the budget, I would like to bring you up to date on a couple of issues that I have been involved with recently.
For three years, I have carried legislation in regards to the appellate process for underground water and a change of use. For years, investors have bought water rights and filed for a change of use to sell water to municipalities. When farmers have objected and it goes before the Ground Water Commission, it is sent to District Court. As of this time, no ruling by the Ground Water Commission has been overturned.
The investors then file a new case that they claim has new evidence. Each time, the farmer is then required to hire water attorneys and engineers to contest this new challenge. This bill is on the way to the governor.
I am currently carrying around 40 bills, and I know that they say: Do not marry a bill. But a bill that I was married to was on nuisance exhaust. This bill, also referred to as “Coal Rolling,” was recently killed in the Senate State Affairs Committee. This bill has been reintroduced and will be up for consideration in a week or two. I hope to have video testimony available from Fort Lewis College and Colorado Mesa University in order to garner community support to rid us of this unhealthy and irritating situation.
Now to the budget. The budget is about $750 million larger than last year. In order to balance the budget, the Joint Budget Committee took $264 million from the Hospital Provider Fee. This action is not good for rural hospitals. Without this, it would not have been possible to present a balanced budget as required by the Colorado Constitution.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg presented a bill to move the Hospital Provider Fee to an enterprise, meaning it will not be counted as revenue against the TABOR cap. This will allow us to put more funding into transportation and education, among other programs.
The next big issue coming before the Senate is HB 1242. At first glance, HB 1242 seems to lack transparency and might be a bit overly bureaucratic. From introduction, just what the final bill will hold is unknown until all the amendments are added or even deleted. The bill will bond $3.5 billion for construction. Bonds will be paid by collecting a .62 percent sales tax sunsetting in 20 years.
The first $375 million collected will go to pay bonds, and of the remaining funds, 70 percent will go to cities and counties, and the remainder for multimodal. On the surface, I like the fact that local government will have a say in how and where money will be spent locally. It is important to note that if the General Assembly approves this bill, it will go to the voters for final approval.
The hard part for me is to ask the voters in Senate District 6 to trust my opinion, but for me to say that I don’t trust your opinion is wrong.
Therefore, unless the bill morphs into something totally egregious to rural Colorado, I will vote for it and will let you make that final decision.
In the past, I have always worried that transportation dollars end up going to the Metro Denver area. HB 1242 gives all of Colorado a piece of the pie, and I believe that the bill will be improved as it goes through the process.
This may end up being a proposal that rural Colorado supports and the Metro area does not.
Please stay tuned for further information.
Don Coram, R-Montrose, represents State Senate District 6. Contact Rep. Coram at (303) 866-4884 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. During the legislative session, Sen. Coram and Rep. Barbara McLachlan share this column on alternate weeks.