Western Slope Club 20 attends annual Denver meeting

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RBC | The Western Slope’s association of counties, municipalities, businesses and interested residents—Club 20—held its annual trip to the state capitol last Thursday and Friday. Club 20 joined forces with two other rural regional associations, Action 22 for 22 southern Colorado counties and Pro*15 for 15 northeastern counties, calling themselves “Voices of Rural Colorado.”

Governor John Hickenlooper, now in the last year of his two terms, welcomed the group of nearly 150 people who gathered in the old Supreme Court Chambers. According to Club 20 administrative assistant Jordyn Kallsen, 104 of those were Club 20 people. Recognizing the small town nature of the communities represented by the crowd, Hickenlooper emphasized the importance and value of the “love of place. “Topophilia,” he called it. He also addressed a loophole in Colorado’s severance tax law recognizing that many of the communities represented deserve a meaningful portion of significant severance tax. He underscored the fact that we’re now hardly charging the oil and gas industry anything by way of severance tax. “We’re now collecting less than $25 million (per year)” for all the mineral wealth taken out of the ground here.

Hickenlooper said the weaknesses in Colorado severance tax law are something the collective lawmakers at the Capitol “should study and correct, not next year, but in the next six weeks. We need to push Republican legislators on this!” He went on to talk about the importance of the habitat protection work some of the severance tax revenues have supported. He also touted how the National Outdoor Recreation Trade Show, held in Denver last month, has relocated to Colorado because of the state’s public support for the value of outdoor recreation, unlike Utah where the show was held for many years.

So many companies, the governor added, want to be located in small towns and that, he said, underscores the importance of getting broadband infrastructure built across the state. He said a few years ago we had about 50 percent of the state served with broadband, now we’ve got it up to about 80 percent and may soon be able to get it to 95 percent. With the help of some of the legislative efforts underway, he’s looking forward to the successful statewide completion of broadband access in the near future.

On water, Hickenlooper hailed the changes that have occurred in Denver over the last several years, seriously reducing per capita consumption. He underscored the importance of follow-through on the Colorado Water Plan that was put together through the efforts of the state’s nine basin roundtable groups involving more than 30,000 people.

He also stressed the importance of rural health care and the work in that regard that’s been done through the Department of Local Affairs in overcoming the urban/rural health care divide.

State Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, told the group that it’s been a good year in the legislature so far. Grantham reported, “We have a heavy emphasis on rural Colorado this year, trying to even out the best in getting government help to the right places while also getting government out of the way. We’re focusing on infrastructure needs including our crowded interstate highways, and getting our own tax dollars back here where we can get them invested in our own futures. Broadband deployment is important to the state’s future and Senate Bill 002 (which made it through its first committee hearing in the Senate last Wednesday), for example, will go a long way in enabling funds for broadband.”

In Q & A, former Montrose county commissioner Bill Patterson, now on the board of the Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), which just recently garnered a large grant for broadband development, expressed his concern about amendments made in committee to that SB 002, the day before, which would undermine the bill’s intent and prevent others from getting the kind of funding DMEA has obtained.

The associations also arranged a panel discussion aimed at the high costs of pharmaceuticals and the lack of transparency in drug pricing.  Insulin was cited as an example of an old line drug that has still risen unconscionably while such drug cost increases keep a lot of folks from getting the care they need. Club 20 executive director, Christian Reece, a member of the drug panel, pointed out that many folks are struggling to pay insurance premiums for policies that still don’t cover the expensive drugs. She pleaded that this has to be a non-party issue, one that cannot continue to get lost in all the political debate.

Reece recently returned from an ambassadorship program to Germany for several weeks and related her experience in discussions with a German hospital administrator. She found costs there much less onerous and feels we must bring some of their ideas and concepts to the U.S. “We need more conversation on these issues. We can’t wait, expecting Congress or the federal government to bail us out,” she implored.

Two measures in the legislature addressing drug costs and availability are a bill requiring that an insured patient be assured they are able to choose the pharmacy at which to fill a prescription by Rep. Mark Catlin, R-Montrose, and Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge; and a bill concerning transparency in diabetes prescription drugs pricing by Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Steamboat Springs, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Wolcott.

A panel on the Education and Economic Development Nexus ensued where the importance of engaged learners was discussed as well as students learning the importance of time management, as in having to actually show up at eight in the morning and other workplace skills. A model of paid high school business internships that has been established by Pinnacol Assurance, a part of Colorado Succeeds—business leaders for education, was reviewed and recommended.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D- Denver, emphasized rural needs in her remarks, as did Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, Connect for Health Director Kevin Patterson, and Colorado Tourism Office Director Cathy Ritter.

Rachel Nance of Xcel Energy presented the value and foresight of the Colorado Energy Plan which was filed last August. Nance pointed out that due to better power distribution including more efficient appliances, customers’ electric bills have decreased four percent over the last four years. She added that renewable resources are becoming more and more market competitive.

The representatives of 57 of Colorado’s 64 counties also heard from Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Bob Broscheid, Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis, Department of Natural Resources Director Bob Randall, Agricultural Commissioner Don Brown, and Department of Local Affairs Director Irv Halter.