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October 2, 2012
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House candidates debate regional issues

EAGLE, Colorado - The battle lines were clearly drawn between the two candidates vying to represent Eagle County in Colorado's state House of Representatives.

Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Chuck McConnell squared off in a spirited debate Monday sponsored by the Eagle County Republican Women.

Do you support Colorado's TABOR Amendment?

McConnell: "I support limited government. I believe that TABOR was an effort to limit the size and growth of government."

Gallagher changed the tax rate and Amendment 23 came after that, which complicated the state's tax structure, he said.

"A lot of things have changed since TABOR was passed. All those things passed when things were good. Things are not good right now and the economy is struggling.

"I think TABOR needs to be changed to reflect the current economic realities.

"It's going to take leadership from the Legislature and the governor, and the citizens who have a stake in this.

Bush: "I support the part of TABOR that requires us to vote to pass tax increases," she said.

Gallagher and Amendment 23 piled on top of TABOR have complicated the state's fiscal future and not for just county and state governments, but fire districts, library districts, and almost every taxing entity, she said.

"We face a structural fiscal crisis in a little more than a decade. We need to sit down with business and industry, then with governments and create a solution. Then sit down with citizens and ask them for their input, and their vote.

Unless a taxing entity is de-Bruced it cannot take advantage of revenue increases when the economy improves, she said.

She said there are two parts to TABOR.

First, she fully supports the rights of the voters to vote on tax increases. But the way TABOR complicates Colorado's fiscal future will have to be addressed, she said.

Is Colorado's PERA program underfunded, and, if so, by how much?

Bush: This statement that PERA is underfunded by as much as 40 percent is based on the probability of every PERA member between the ages of 18 and 65 retiring in the same year, she said.

The state Legislature guarantees the solvency in the near future, unless new employees are funneled into an alternative program, she said.

"Given the current circumstances and contribution level, PERA is solvent for the immediate future," she said.

McConnell: "PERA is incredibly important because 9 percent of all Coloradans are affected by this plan," McConnell said.

He quoted State Treasurer Walker Stapleton as saying PERA payouts over the last couple years were more than $1 billion more than income, and that investment returns are 1.8 percent instead of the 8 percent the program's projections are based on.

"The fund is based on an 8 percent return and it's 1.8 percent, and your payouts surpass your income. The projections are not as solvent as they should be," McConnell said.

Are Colorado water resources are being effectively managed?

McConnell: "No," he said flatly.

Under the compacts and agreements Colorado has with other states, many, many millions of acre feet that are leaving this state, he said.

Any plan has to include underground and surface storage to help keep Colorado water in Colorado, he said.

"We must retain the rights to the water in Colorado for Coloradans," he said. "I was in the Capitol last week I read the Poet Laureate of Colorado's words: 'The history of Colorado is written in its water.'"

Bush: "No," she said. "The most immediate threat to our water is transmountain diversions."

Too much water that goes to the Front Range is wasted, and "our Front Range friends" seem reluctant to be more efficient in the way they use it.

"When water is used in its basin of origin, it replenishes the rivers, streams and ground water levels," she said.

She said watershed councils like Eagle County's Eagle River Watershed Council can help us understand how to use more water more effectively.

Should colleges and universities should be giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants?

Bush: "The Asset Bill is more complex than the statement. It deals with students who've been graduated with honors, who are trying to improve their lives and the lives of their families," she said. "This enables these young people to become professionals, police officers, teachers, fire fighters. It gives them opportunities and that's what America is about."

The Asset Bill has never promised a break to children of people in this country illegally, she said.

McConnell: "The way the world is today, I don't support in-state tuition for people who are in the country illegally. My problems with it are rule of law. Right now the federal law brands them as illegal," he said.

He said this country is full of highly intelligent and talented young people who happen to be Hispanic. But until there's a federal solution, it's out of the state's hands.

"There's a solution and it's a federal solution. Our borders must be secured and the Congress must get off their duff and create reasonable immigration reform."

Should Colorado join the other states that have passed Right to Work Legislation? (That would allow workers to opt out of joining a labor union)

McConnell: "Yes. When employees have the choice to join or not to join a union, they often choose not to join. When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had that huge brouhaha, when public employees were given the option not to join their unions, many opted not to join," he said.

High paying wages are great, but the U.S. automobile industry became a non-viable entity because the wage rates are much higher than in other countries," he said "The arguments for higher wages is that everyone wants higher wages."

Bush: "I would be opposed to Colorado being a right to work state," she said. "The 23 states that are right to work states have lower household income and create fewer jobs above minimum wage. We have collective bargaining to thank for much of this."

Lower household income is the fact in right to work states, and fewer jobs that pay more than minimum wage. I don't think right to work is going to change that in Colorado."

How would you ease I-70 congestion?

McConnell: "The health of the I-70 corridor is essential to this area," he said

Streamlining and harmonization are stop-gap measures that do not work once traffic reaches certain levels of congestion. Tolls generate revenue, but don't address congestion.

Truck prohibitions are not viable and adding lanes are a short-term fix for the next 20 years, but not a long-term solution, he said.

The technology doesn't exist right now for high speed rail, he said.

"It's an untenable solution. High speed rail in some form or another may be what we need and might work, but the cost is around $20 billion," he said.

Bush: "I'm against blanket tolling, period. It would hurt our people and our businesses," she said.

Harmonization is a short term solution, not a long term solution, she said. She dismissed truck prohibitions.

"No, it's an interstate highway," she said.

There is hope for high speed rail, she said. All it takes is lots of money.

"Contrary to what my opponent says, there's plenty of technology that exists that works. The question is not whether or not it works, it's what it will cost, and that's in the billions," she said. "We need people to sit down at the table and come up with solutions and then take those solutions to the citizens, because it's going to take money."


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The VailDaily Updated Oct 2, 2012 08:44PM Published Oct 2, 2012 08:44PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.