Good morning from the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. You may not get this in the morning, but I'm writing it Saturday morning from my office in the state Capitol.
Having a private office is one of the few perks afforded me as the most senior senator, as most legislators have to share their office with one or more others. Even though I have moved, my phone number at the Capitol has stayed the same as well as my e-mail address.
I'm also fortunate this year to have two Fort Lewis College students working in my office full time. They are Patrick Young from Colorado Springs and Kate Jessen from Paonia. They will earn academic credits for their time here, and it will give them some firsthand experience of how the legislative process works. They will be joined Mondays and Wednesdays by Lauren Latimer from Bayfield. Lauren is a full-time University of Colorado student and helped out last year.
They are catching on quickly, having completed their second week yesterday. They have helped organize the office and even came in on a Saturday so we could sort through our file cabinets and eliminate all the outdated information. They are quickly learning how to track legislation, help constituents and calendar the many events that occur during the 120-day legislative session.
One of the most important things the Legislature does every year is pass the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year. That will be a major challenge this year with the downturn in the state and national economy.
In Colorado, we have to have a balanced budget - unlike the U.S. Congress, we can't borrow money. Our budget difficulties are compounded by the fact the budget we prepared last session for the current fiscal year is now projected to be out of balance by several hundred million dollars.
The Joint Budget Committee, which includes legislators from both the House and Senate, is working hard to get the budget into balance. It will take a combination of cuts to programs and departments, transfers of cash balances, hiring freezes and use of reserves. I will write more about this as the plan evolves.
As in past years, I plan to write this column weekly to help keep my constituents in Southwest Colorado informed about what we are working on in the Legislature. I also will write about the bills I'm carrying as space allows.
One of my first bills this year is Senate Bill 43, which authorizes the merger of Pueblo Community College and San Juan Basin Technical College. Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, will be the prime House sponsor, and others, including Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez, have signed on as co-sponsors. We all are excited about the educational potential of this merger. The new institution will be known as Southwest Colorado Community College and will operate as a branch of Pueblo Community College. This merger will broaden educational opportunities in Southwest Colorado and provide for a more seamless transition for students.
I'm working on several water bills again this year, and one of my first ones will be a bill to allow for the limited capture of rooftop precipitation. A bill that would have allowed this last year died, primarily because of concerns about the effects it would have had in incorporated areas that were served by domestic water systems. This year, there will be two bills, and I will carry the one that pertains to the rural areas that aren't served by domestic water systems. My bill will allow collection subject to the same conditions and limitations that would pertain to a well that would be allowed on the same property.
If you make it to Denver this winter, feel free to stop by the Capitol. The public is always welcome, and I always enjoy seeing people from home.
Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, represents the 6th District, which includes Durango, in the state Senate. Reach him at the Capitol by phone (303) 866-4884; by fax (303) 866-4543; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.