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RBC I Colorado State Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulfur Springs, was the featured speaker at October’s meeting of the Community Network Group at Colorado Northwestern Community College.
The gathering was hosted by CNCC President Russ George and Peggy Rector. Baumgardner’s Senate District 8 includes seven counties—Rio Blanco, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Routt and Summit.
Baumgardner led off saying it was good to see a county so actively and wisely pursuing broadband connection for its citizens. He had picked up on the broadband activity from conversations before the noon session.
Water issues, he said, were most important and always big.
“Without water, none of the rest of the issues make any difference,” he said.
He mentioned the State Water Plan and said he’s not quite sure how to feel about it at this point. He said he and a group of other Western Slope legislators have written a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper, identifying what they think are some deficiencies in the plan with regard to the Western Slope. So far, Hickenlooper has not responded, he reported.
Baumgardner is on the Legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee, and he mentioned meeting with the Northern Water Conservancy District and Denver Water, asking them where they thought they were going to get the water to put in the new reservoir and reservoir expansion projects they are planning. He said it is imperative to get the Front Range to quit thinking of western Colorado as its continuing source for new water.
Baumgardner said he is also working on fire mitigation issues. One idea that’s floating about is providing tax credits to landowners who conduct fire mitigation activities around their homes. He’s not sure he’s in favor of that idea, figuring if a person buys a home in a fire-prone situation they ought to be willing to take on fire prevention activities on their own.
Regarding public land management and referencing his own cow-calf operation, the senator said down timber now in many grazing permit allotments make those areas almost impossible in terms of moving and gathering cattle, as well as being a fire hazard.
He said he is working to make federal managers more responsive. He also mentioned, however, that these federal land managers were consistently closing out permitee access to some federal lands.
The senator next brought up the possibility that the Legislature would see an effort again this year to raise Colorado’s minimum wage, and he asked the assembled group what they thought. John Payne, owner of Giovanni’s Restaurant, quickly replied that such required increases would force all costs up, to the point no one would see any real gains, and then everyone up the ladder would expect an increase as well.
Rangely Mayor Frank Huitt seconded Payne’s remarks, calling the whole wage game a “vicious cycle and that you can’t fix stupid.”
Rene Harden suggested someone who’s lazy at $8 per hour would be even lazier at $10 per hour.
Payne said there are other ways a person can make more money.
Former Rangely mayor Peggy Rector argued that these kinds of measures, increased minimum wages being a prime example, are what’s “washing out rural America,” and she urged extreme caution. She argued for a much greater cooperative effort with federal lawmakers in order to avoid making things worse.
Rangely Realtor Susana Field tried to balance the conversation, saying that we do need to encourage low wage increases, that people do have to have a “livable wage,” or we all end up paying more in taxes to help support them.
Baumgardner also expressed concern about the Clean Power Plan. He cited the case of a new Lamar, Colo., power plant that is not able to meet the new standards and therefore hasn’t been able to produce any electricity.
He argued that we need energy of all kinds and the government shouldn’t be a barrier to any energy production—“it shouldn’t be picking winners and losers.”
Moon Lake Electric Association’s Bob Kissling asked Baumgardner why hydropower couldn’t be considered “renewable energy?”
Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius asked what the senator thought of the idea of changing the hospital fees coming into the state to an enterprise fund, removing them from general fund TABOR limitations.
Baumgardner said he looks at the Colorado Department of Transportation, which is run as an enterprise and has major struggles. He’s not sure that’s the way to go.
Matt Scoggins, Rangely’s superintendent of schools, spent some time with the senator after breakfast Tuesday, primarily talking school finances.
Scoggins reported that Baumgardner was very concerned about K-12 funding, but, like most other state legislators, not optimistic about near-term increased funding from the state.
Scoggins said Baumgardner “encouraged us to be creative.”