The 71st session of the Colorado General Assembly moved the state forward on a variety of fronts, to a degree not seen in previous years, thanks to a willingness to compromise by both parties, and especially by some Republican senators who put state interests above politics.
Gov. John Hickenlooper called it the most productive session since he became governor.
Most significantly, the hospital provider fee was retained and classified independent of TABOR in order to provide critical funding for small-budget rural hospitals. That was, literally, a lifesaver.
There will be an increase in per-pupil education spending and for mental health services, and a reduction in personal property taxes for small businesses.
Highway construction will receive a boost to the tune of $1.8 billion, but not nearly as much as is required, with specified percentages to go to counties with lower populations. The legislature will have to return to highway funding next year.
In return for some additional spending, some state departments will have to reduce their budgets by 2 percent, Medicaid co-pays will increase, as will pot taxes to the maximum 15 percent.
Charter schools will have more funding, as by 2019-2020 local mill levy increases will have to include charters. The likelihood of legal action resulting from construction deficits, which has greatly reduced condominium construction in recent years, was reduced somewhat by the requirement that the majority of unit owners must desire the legal action.
Unfortunately, the state’s energy office will be greatly reduced in size after a failure to reach a compromise on its $3 million budget. The office encourages energy-efficiency and provides grants for weatherization, for example, but is viewed as being anti-fossil fuels. Efficient energy use is the challenge nationwide, and the office will have to rebuild in subsequent years.
Locally, State Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, in his first partial term in the Senate after being named to succeed Ellen Roberts who stepped down, can be praised for carrying a rolling coal bill that was approved, voting in favor of the hospital provider fee, and carrying a bill that would recognize industrial hemp as an agricultural product for which decreed water rights could be used. He also supported a rural broadband and Colorado Parks and Wildlife funding bill that were killed.
The legislature did authorize $9.5 million for rural broadband, an increase over previous years, but still far short of meeting rural communities’ needs statewide. Funding for broadband and CPW will need to be revisited next year.
State Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, elected to replace Sen. Coram in the State House, carried a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Coram and Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D-Durango), concerning the remembrance of Ute history in Colorado, honors the culture and heritage of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian Tribes.
A $1 million appropriation will support the creation of an opioid research center to help defend against the rampant overuse of prescription drugs. For the media and, thus, the public, government records requests will now have to be provided in sortable or searchable forms, rather than .PDF images, if that is how the records were kept.
Overall, legislators deserve praise for the compromises that allowed so much to be accomplished during the session. Let’s expect that in subsequent sessions, as well.