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By Sen. Bennett
For many Americans, 2013 was an eventful year. For Coloradans it tested our resilience, our courage, and our willpower.
We fought the most destructive wildfire in our history (Black Forest), as well one of the largest (West Fork), only to be hit by unprecedented flooding less than three months later. Meanwhile, farmers in the southeastern corner of our state endured months of unending drought that has crippled their harvests and threatened their livelihood. And, as the year came to a close, another high school was left rattled by senseless and horrible violence.
Coloradans, as usual, showed their mettle and have come together in every corner of the state to support one another, recover, rebuild and carry on.
Unfortunately, the same isn’t true of Congress. The first session of the 113th Congress has been called one of the least effective in the history of the United States. Partisan gridlock has halted progress on a variety of issues critical to Colorado’s success, including immigration, education and a national food and farming policy. Most frustrating was the manufactured government shutdown that left thousands without a paycheck and reduced our gross domestic product by $24 billion.
But, in true Colorado fashion, our delegation — Democrats and Republicans — found ways to work together and put Colorado first.
While we didn’t agree on every issue, in times of crisis we worked across the aisle to make sure federal resources were available for rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts. As of early December, we secured more than $136 million in grants and low-interest loans to help Coloradans in areas affected by the floods. We also secured nearly $20 million in Emergency Watershed Protection Funding to fund watershed conservation and erosion prevention for communities recovering from the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires.
The delegation also pushed Congress to maintain the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program that helps our local communities offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal land. PILT payments help counties provide critical services, such as police, fire protection, emergency response and infrastructure. And we worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to preserve funding for the USDA’s Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program. It measures Colorado’s snowpack, providing essential information for water managers who must know how much water they can expect in the coming months.
For avid hikers in southern Colorado, we were able to trim bureaucracy to help “officially” legalize the Manitou Incline for public use. Now thousands of outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the pleasure of surmounting this popular and legendary vertical mile trail.
Big issues wait for us in this new year. Among them, we need to pass a Farm Bill to provide Colorado’s farmers and ranchers with the security, stability and resources they need to continue providing food, fuel and fiber for the country. We need to fix our broken immigration system to secure our borders, strengthen our economy and create a path forward for immigrants living in the shadows. And we need to develop a bipartisan budget plan that materially reduces the deficit and puts our country on a more sustainable fiscal path.
If Washington can learn from the example Colorado has set, we will have the opportunity get back to work for the American people and to begin to meet the challenges facing our nation. My New Year’s resolution is to remain committed to working with any Republican or Democrat who wants to find thoughtful, innovative solutions that will ensure our competitiveness and leadership in the 21st century.