Cash, water and immigration
EAGLE COUNTY – It’s an election year, and there’s an extra $500 million or so waiting to be spent.That could make the 2006 session of the Colorado Legislature an interesting one. There have been predictions of a contentious session with plenty of partisan grandstanding this year. In the 2004 election, Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature for the first time in 40 years. Republicans, of course, want their majority status back. Which is what’s led to predictions of a cranky session.Neither of Eagle County’s representatives agree with those predictions.”I don’t think it’s going to be any different than any other election year,” Sen. Jack Taylor said. “Each side forces the other to vote on things they don’t want to.”Rep. Gary Lindstrom also said he doesn’t expect much out of the ordinary this session.”I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as some people think,” he said. “The Democrats’ majorities are just one vote in the Senate and three votes in the House. I think the positioning will be to enhance the incumbents. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of that on the floor.”Whatever form the jockeying for position takes, there are a handful of issues legislators will need to tackle, including:The budget
When voters passed Referendum C last fall, it freed up roughly $500 million for 2006, money the state was already collecting, but refunding to taxpayers. The ballot language promised the money would be spent on education, health care, transportation and shoring up pension plans for firefighters and police officers.”We need to stick to that closely,” Taylor said. “I’m already sensing an effort, on both sides, to spend it on other things.”But even if the money is spent strictly according to the ballot language, how to spend the money, and when to spend money coming in over the ballot issue’s five-year life span, is sure to generate arguments.”The question with a lot of this is timing, and when we will see some projects, especially transportation projects,” Lindstrom said. While Referendum C passed, voters turned down Referendum D, a companion ballot issue that would have authorized state borrowing for road projects.”With that, we had a five-year time line,” Lindstrom said. “Without it, who knows?”And locals shouldn’t expect to see much of the state’s new money make it to the Western Slope.”Education in Eagle and Summit won’t see any of it, because it’s for capital repairs,” Lindstrom said. “The schools in Eagle and Summit don’t need it, but the schools in Leadville do.”WaterWith reservoirs filling and plentiful early-winter snow, Taylor is worried that momentum is slowing to find answers to problems exposed when the recent drought peaked in 2002.
“Now’s the time to take care of this,” Taylor said. “We need to not forget, and have better storage for the next drought, and be prepared for it.”But part of creating better water storage is protecting “basins of origin,” the places that provide water to new or expanded reservoirs.”We need inter-basin coordination and cooperation,” he said. “Hopefully we can find a win-win situation for everyone.”ImmigrationSeveral bills are already in the hopper to limit state services to illegal immigrants. Among other things, those bills would provide training for police to determine if people are in the country illegally, and would prohibit awarding state contracts to companies that hire illegal immigrants.There’s also the prospect of a ballot issue to restrict state services for illegal immigrants.Some of those bills have a chance of passing, Lindstrom said.”In my opinion, they’re racist,” he added. “I support George Bush’s guest worker program. And involving the private sector is a great way to deal with immigration. We need a system that allows our economy to stay strong.”Smoking, etc.
Lindstrom will again co-sponsor a bill to ban smoking around the state. A similar bill last year passed in the House, but was shot down in the Senate.”It has an excellent chance of passing this year,” Lindstrom said. “If we get resistance this year, I’ll actively support a ballot initiative. And if it goes to a vote of the people, it’ll pass.”Lindstrom said he’s also co-sponsoring a bill increasing fines for people caught skiing out of bounds, as well as one that would free up state money to help property owners cut down beetle-killed trees. Money for that program would come from taxes mining companies pay the state.
Taylor said he’s helping craft a bill that would allow military people who are out of state to vote electronically. He’s also going to keep an eye on how the Colorado Department of Local Affairs doles out federal mineral lease money. “That one could go against the Western Slope,” he said. Taylor’s name could end up on the sponsor’s section of a bill regulating oil and gas wells on private property.”Wells on private property are creating potential health problems for people,” he said.Taylor said he’s still trying to find a way to better fund the state’s tourism board, especially to help towns and counties market their history.”There’s a lot of history in Eagle County and towns in the district,” he said. “We need to make an effort to get them ready for tourists.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado