Coloradans need to determine budget priorities, legislators say in Durango

By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

When it comes to the 2016 Colorado General Assembly agenda, the biggest issue is money and the competing demands for limited dollars, legislators said at the League of Women Voters of La Plata County’s Legislative Lowdown on Saturday.

“We need to have a grown-up conversation about what we can afford,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who was joined by Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, at the event. “When we took $450 million from the severance tax, which was set up to help local communities affected by the oil and gas industry and support water-storage construction, it was just one more attempt to delay a tough conversation. We need to figure out what our priorities are and make our revenues and expenses match up.”

Both Roberts and Brown were concerned about the percentage of revenues going toward expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“One in five Coloradans is on Medicaid,” Roberts said, “and one in three is on Medicaid, Medicare or CHP+ (Child Health Plan Plus). We expanded the program without having the workforce to cover it. Whenever we add a new program, we have to cut funding from something else, like K-12 funding, higher education and roads.”

About 40 people filled the room at the Durango Recreation Center, including all three La Plata County commissioners. Attendees asked questions about all of the hot topics in the news, such as the desirability of the Superfund to clean up the Animas River, moving the hospital provider fee from under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights cap, a single-provider health care system and funding for K-12 education.

“The single-payer system would break the state of Colorado,” Brown said. “Some people would move to the state to take advantage of it, and businesses will move out because of the increase in taxes.”

Top on everyone’s mind after the caucuses Tuesday was a discussion about returning to a presidential primary election. Colorado holds a primary election at the end of June, but it doesn’t include presidential candidates. The presidential primary was eliminated after the 2000 election by the Legislature because of the expense.

“Whatever gets the most people engaged at the grass-roots level is what we should do,” Brown said.