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A session ends, the issues persist

Denver seems far away again as the legislative session wound up in mid-May.

We had our meeting in Durango regarding the issue of gaining full access to Denver television in Montezuma and La Plata Counties and we’ll see what develops next on that front.

Community member and volunteer Ann Flatten has gotten a local community group going to take some next steps as suggested at the early June meeting. Her e-mail is flatten@gobrainstorm.net, so if you’re interested in joining that effort, please contact Ann.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the roads in southwest Colorado wearing my legislator hat and as a candidate for the state Senate seat. This has meant talking with lots of people about state level issues on their minds. Not surprisingly, the health of our economy and jobs remain at the forefront for most people.

Legislators received the latest state economic and revenue forecast in June and it warns of continued tough times for Colorado. You can access the Colorado economic and revenue forecast online at the Colorado Legislative Council’s website, www.colorado.gov/lcs, under the tab June 2010.

When I first got to the legislature in 2007, I didn’t understand why the four counties in my district were defined as part of the same economic region as the San Luis Valley. While many of us drive through the valley to travel north, our economy is based on very different factors. The construction, energy development and tourism industries were not given as much attention in the forecast as they should have received considering the overall economic impact they have in this area compared to the San Luis Valley.

I undertook the task of trying to get the state drafters of the forecast to change that historic approach when looking at our region and, after some convincing, they now consider the San Luis Valley and southwest Colorado in different economic regions.

This leads to better information for all of us and since many of the Front Range legislators don’t come out to our area all that often but rely on the forecast for their view of our region, it’s good for them to have a more accurate picture of what drives our economy and what condition it is in each quarterly reporting period.

A serious concern I have that’s mentioned in the report is that Colorado’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is in deficit and we’ve only been able to pay out the benefits by borrowing from the federal government. This is the same concern that I raised in this column a year ago.

Along similar lines, I do not see how we are going to be able to handle the state program Medicaid expansions which also went unpaid to providers for part of the month of June due to lack of state funds. These are all problems that we need to be addressing and the start of next January’s session when the legislators return to the Capitol is still many months away.

On another topic, there’s been considerable interest in my district on how county assessors tax agricultural property. Many feel that the system is confusing and unevenly applied, with serious financial consequences to the property owner and local governments. I checked into the status of the agricultural classification task force which will begin a series of summer meetings on July 8, in Denver, at the offices of Colorado Counties, Inc. The task force isn’t a legislative interim committee, but has members from key agricultural groups, the state property tax administrator and county commissioners and assessors. Public input is invited and I’d encourage it.