Vail Daily column: Progress made at Capitol
Greetings to everyone in Eagle County!
We are in high gear down here at the Capitol with less than two weeks remaining in the 2014 Session. March and April have been very productive for common sense, fiscally responsible solutions to benefit all Coloradans.
During the last week in March, the Colorado House debated and passed the Long Appropriations Bill, HB14-1336, aka the budget for fiscal year 2014-15. The Constitution requires that we pass a balanced budget. That means we must carefully weigh competing needs. After passing the House, the budget went through the Senate, got amended and came back to us for final approval the week of April 14. It was signed by the governor this week.
Our priorities were education funding to provide opportunity for all our children, flood and wildfire relief and prevention of future disasters, and building more economic security for all.
Most importantly, we increased our reserve from 5 to 6.5 percent without raising taxes. Having a solid rainy day fund is critical when disaster strikes or if the economy worsens. I am very pleased that we were able to build up our reserve.
Here are some other budget highlights. Our budget:
• Increases funds for preschool, K-12 and higher education.
• Keeps our annual investments in tourism, film and creative industries.
• Funds much needed wastewater and drinking projects, especially for smaller rural communities.
• Provides tax incentives for small business investment and job creation and targeted job training.
• Reduces business personal property tax.
• Includes tax incentives for farmers and ranchers who donate crops to food banks.
• Overhauls Colorado drivers license offices, technology and processes.
• Funds resources for aircraft to fight wildfires.
• Provides grants and tax credits for individuals, families and communities devastated by flood and wildfire.
• Improves juvenile and adult criminal justice systems, both defense and prosecution/district attorneys training.
• Makes a $1 million appropriation to the Judicial Department for family violence justice grants to provide legal representation for victims of family violence.
• Adds $1 million for agencies serving veterans and additional funds for job training partnerships matching veterans with employers.
• Funds grants for adult education and literacy across Colorado to increase economic opportunity and help struggling adults find jobs to support themselves and their families.
• Has a $5.3 million appropriation for expansion of the state’s childcare income tax credit for moderate income working families and improvements to the childcare assistance program.
• 12.7 percent general fund increase to the Civil Rights Division, the enforcement arm of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, charged with enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation.
• Housing tax credits and low interest loans to expand construction of affordable housing.
• Tax credit for community solar gardens.
• Many other investments in building a better future for all Coloradans.
I am eager to discuss the budget with you in town halls or other venues after the session adjourns.
I am proud that all eight of my bills so far have had bipartisan support. Five have already been signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper.
On April 14, my bill to fund Safe Routes to School passed the House with a bipartisan vote, 42-19. It is now on its way to the Senate.
My small hydro power bill with Republican Representative Don Coram (R-Montrose) reduces red tape and bureaucracy to encourage more small hydropower and create rural jobs. We worked with an inclusive, diverse group of stakeholders to build consensus. The governor will sign this bill on May 31 on the Western Slope.
We have many more bills to consider and debate before Wednesday.
I am honored to represent you in the Colorado House. You can count on me to continue to be a strong mountain community voice for you!
During the session, please do contact me at email@example.com or until Wednesday at my Capitol office at 303-866-2923 with your concerns, questions and ideas.
Diane Mitsch Bush represents Eagle and Routt counties in the Colorado State House of Representatives.