Western Slope leaders reflect on 2022 session that covered school funding, mental health services, tax relief

Colorado State Rep. Julie McCluskie speaks to Summit County community officials in Silverthorne on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. McCluskie, along with Rep. Dylan Roberts and Sen. Kerry Donovan, reflected on some of the larger bills passed by the state this year.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

The 2022 state legislative session officially wrapped up earlier this month, but local representatives met Monday evening to discuss some of the bigger bills they were able to pass this year.

Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, led the state’s budgeting efforts as chair of the joint budget committee. She said that next fiscal year’s budget “adheres to (Colorado) values — supporting public education, protecting health care for low income individuals and families (and) protecting all of those services for the neediest of us who are still trying to recover from the pandemic.”

In the budget, lawmakers brought down a portion of the budget stabilization factor, which is a tool created in 2010 that proportionally reduces the amount of total funding for each school district. The factor, which was a response to the recession in 2008, reduces state aid to districts. In addition to bringing a portion of the budget stabilization factor down, the state will also invest $80 million toward special education services.

“I just spoke with a teacher (Monday), and I’m so pleased to hear that her district is giving educators a 9% raise,” McCluskie said. “We know that we are losing our teachers, our bus drivers, our food service workers — all those wonderful people who are serving our kids in this great state, and we’re losing them not only because of the challenges of the job through the pandemic but also because we simply are not providing the resources, the living wage, to these individuals so that they can live in the communities where they’re working.”

The state also approved several large investments in health care. One bill will overhaul the mandatory hold system for behavioral health patients, and another that will support patients through pregnancy and the first year of a baby’s life. Rep. Dylan Roberts, who represents Routt and Eagle counties, said that in the near future he wants to continue making health care more affordable for Coloradans.

“This past legislative session, we turned a lot of our health care focus to behavioral and mental health, which I think is very appropriate and needed,” Roberts said. “So in my opinion, over the next few years I think we need to monitor all that work and make sure it’s been implemented and as impactful as it was intended and then make changes based off of that.”

Over the next two years, state leaders also aim to provide some relief when it comes to rising property taxes. Senate Bill 238 is expected to offer $700 million in property tax relief by reducing the taxable value of business properties by $30,000, decreasing the taxable value of homes by $15,000 and changing assessment rates from 29% to 27.9% for commercial properties and from 6.95% to 6.765% for residential properties.

McCluskie said that the average family homeowner will see $274 in savings on their property taxes this year.

“​​I think the question is: What comes next?” McCluskie said. “While we’re providing the two-year package of relief for both residential and commercial property owners, I think the real work has to begin now for how we look at reforming our property tax approach.”

Federal pandemic relief funds allowed for several investments that totaled tens of millions of dollars, Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail said. He added that the state, at this time, is unlikely to see that kind of surplus of money any time soon.

“Unfortunately with restrictions on our budget like (the Taxpayers Bill of Rights), there’s not always big dollars for those to come around,” Donovan said. “If we want good rural roads, we have to as a state figure out how to get those dollars to invest.”

She said there is typically a political conversation that surrounds the budget regarding how the state will get money to spend toward transportation.

“The immediate question is what are you going to cut?” she said. “That’s kind of the back and forth that we have in the General Assembly year after year.”

If the state needs to spend significant dollars on something, she said lawmakers have to figure out where they will make cuts to the budget in order to make the project feasible.

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