Democrats in charge in both houses and in the governor’s mansion and an increase in tax revenues from a healthy economy moved the state ahead in the legislative session just completed.
Ahead, yes, but the Democrats did not get everything they wanted.
Gov. Jared Polis campaigned on having the state fund full-day kindergarten for all Colorado students beginning this fall, and he and the Legislature made it happen. Good to have that extra local tax revenue.
Tax revenue also made it possible for the state’s public colleges to hold their tuition unchanged for the coming school year, which should add at least slightly to enrollment. Unlike the full kindergarten funding, there are no promises for a second year. And the tax money was not sufficient for everything, with Ft. Lewis College and Colorado Mesa University failing to receive the building construction funding they had expected.
To improve health care access, Polis campaigned on the idea of joining with other states to gain scale. Multi-state coordination was always far-fetched, and Colorado went it alone: more transparency in health care costs, petitioning D.C. to allow Canadian drug purchases, a reinsurance plan to reduce expensive coverage and a plan to bring down the high insurance rates in many non-metro areas of the state.
There is no silver bullet that will allow us to deliver higher quality health care at lower cost to Coloradans or to all Americans, but these steps by the Legislature should improve the situation in Colorado.
And while there was only very limited new money for the state’s highways, which require several billion dollars in expansion and reconstruction spending, voters in November will be able to say whether they want to do more for highways or not. That question, a referred measure which will allow the state to retain tax revenues in excess of the population growth and inflation maximums in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), will also help meet pre K-12 and higher education’s needs. Colorado’s healthy economy is delivering strong corporate and individual tax receipts which can be put to good use to meet the needs of its increased population.
This referred measurement by the Legislature (which obviates the need for signature-gathering) will not eliminate the TABOR requirement to vote on tax increases, although opponents may say so. We will see whether voters accept to the need to better shape TABOR to make investments in the state possible. In the past, Republicans have not wanted the Legislature to pose that ballot question.
But the Democrats could only go so far in the session. An initial, hoped-for medical leave mandate for businesses and employees will be studied, not implemented, as it looked to come with a very high cost.
Nor will there be tighter requirements for opting out of children’s vaccinations; a provision was deemed too intrusive.
The approval of “red-flag” legislation, which can result in possibly unstable gun owners temporarily losing their weapons after a court hearing, generated particular ire among Republicans and members of both parties in rural parts of the state; “gun sanctuary” counties were the result.
And the Legislature and the governor may have moved too quickly to join other states in replacing a state’s electoral college vote with a requirement that the vote reinforce the national popular vote. While there is good reason to debate the effectiveness of the Electoral College, aligning the electoral vote with the popular vote now is clearly a Democratic effort to avoiding losing the presidency again.
Intensive energy exploration on the Front Range, where drilling rigs are alongside housing developments, especially in Boulder County, led to legislation requiring the state Oil and Gas Regulatory Commission to focus on safety and to allow each county and municipality to come up with its own drilling regulations.
We can expect that a handful of counties will have the need to develop unique restrictions on development, and that will slow drilling there – but for most of the state, this is a non-event.
The return of drilling to La Plata County to the degree seen between the mid-’80s and the mid-2000s is very doubtful. There is simply too much natural gas elsewhere in the country which can be brought to the surface more cheaply.
And while surface owners at the edges of the San Juan Basin field, where the geology came to the surface, suffered painfully during the natural gas extraction, the fact that the field began a few miles from Durango’s city limits meant that relatively few landowners were impacted. Noisy drilling rigs and dust-raising trucks lasted only a short time as royalties and county tax revenues flowed.
Gov. Polis said earlier this week that he had some 400 bills on his desk yet to be signed, vetoed or left to die. That vast quantity is the obvious result of one party’s control of both houses and the governorship.
We value the two-party system and favor thoughtful debate. The session just ended tipped a bit too far to the Democrats, but no great harm was done.