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By Bob Rankin
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | The hot issues at the state capitol this session seem to all be about taxes and spending. Or maybe my perspective is skewed by being a member of the Joint Budget Committee with the constitutional responsibility of balancing the budget again this year. Did I say I’m worried?
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) lets us grow state revenue and spending by the rate of inflation and population. That formula provides a relatively consistent growth rate in recent years. The problem is on the spending side. The spending required by previously enacted laws and several constitutional amendments result in anything but a consistent spending requirement. Health care costs and Medicaid have exploded at a rate much greater than inflation. Severance taxes have oscillated from 300 million to just 20 million last year. Funding for K12 education is shared between the local school district and the state general fund. The state share, because of the interaction of constitutional amendments has grown from 40 percent to more than 60 percent. These factors put pressure on the state budget to stay under the TABOR limit. Other parts of the budget stay within growth targets but face this pressure every year. However we have been forced to underfund our transportation needs along the way and we need another billion dollars a year to expand and maintain our roads.
So what to do? Is there a way out of this complicated and seemingly intractable morass?
We may, or may not, reach a compromise on transportation funding this year to come to you, the voters, with a ballot measure. We are certain to get massive changes in health insurance and Medicaid from the federal government. We have to attack school funding through state legislation and ballot measures. I’ve been working with Representative Hamner and a bipartisan coalition to form a vision of where we want our education system to go in the future. If we have a vision and a plan, accepted by the whole state, then we can talk about how it should be funded.
I’m still concerned about our interaction with federal land management and the changes in public land use for recreation, mineral extraction, grazing, etc. I’ll be introducing a bill to set up a public lands commission to help guide out our state efforts.
On other news, I just introduced a bill, and got it through the house, to reform our state procurement code that hasn’t been upgraded in more than 30 years. Thanks to the Department of Personnel for their two years of hard work on this issue.
The budget committee will be closing off loose ends and balancing the budget and then presenting it to the legislature in the next month. It’s the most intense time of the year for me. Despite the long days and intellectual challenge, I enjoy the job. Joyce and I both are thankful for the opportunity to serve the fine citizens of this great state.
Representative Bob Rankin represents House District 57. He writes the monthly column “Under the Dome” hoping to inform and engage the constituents in his district. He serves on the Joint Budget Committee and represents Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat Counties.