Summit County’s state and federal representatives seek to find ways to fund roads, schools with new legislation
Summit County’s new state and federal representatives are looking to find ways to address some of the rural mountain community’s most pressing concerns, including funding for road infrastructure and education, through key pieces of legislation passed and introduced this week.
Near and dear to county and state budgeting woes, Rep. Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon) and the Democrat-led Legislature are looking to loosen the vice hold that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights has on local government coffers.
The TABOR amendment, passed in 1992, limits the amount of money the state can raise and spend, setting caps on both based on current or prior year revenues. While TABOR still finds strong support among fiscal conservatives looking to contain government growth, it often has been a stumbling block for local communities in Colorado growing at a much faster rate than the funding.
On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis signed bills HB19-1257 and HB19-1258 into law. Collectively, they refer a measure to the November ballot that would allow the state to annually retain all state revenues in excess of the TABOR cap, and then divert that money to equally fund improvements to road infrastructure, higher education and public schools.
If voters approve the measure, it would be the first time the state institutes permanent “de-Brucing,” the process of bypassing TABOR’s strict requirements that is named after the bill’s author, Douglas Bruce. Referendum C, a temporary measure passed by voters in 2005, gave the state a temporary five-year retention of funds from TABOR caps after the 2001–03 recession drastically lowered tax revenues and, as a result, dealt deep cuts to the state budget.
McCluskie, formerly the communications director for Summit School District, was a prime sponsor for both bills, saying it was time state priorities were able to keep up with the booming economy and population.
“When times are good, we have a responsibility to invest in the things we care about most: public schools, higher education and transportation,” McCluskie said. “These bills give voters a say and sends the money to the systems that are crucial to Colorado’s future economic success.”
McCluskie also pointed out that most Colorado counties and school districts already have created workarounds to avoid losing money due to TABOR.
“Fifty-four out of the 64 counties and 174 out of 178 school districts have already de-Bruced, and it makes perfect sense for the state to do same,” McCluskie said. “However, it doesn’t solve our long-term need for sustainable revenue sources.”
At the federal level, freshman Congressman Joe Neguse (D-Boulder) has introduced House Resolution 3048, an extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which provides funds to rural communities with significant federal land holdings. The funds are partially derived from leases for timber and other activities on national forestland.
That act, originally passed in 2000, has provided millions of dollars to schools and other programs in Summit County since its passage, including more than $816,000 last year. Neguse’s bill seeks to extend the program into fiscal year 2020.
“Rural districts, including the Summit School District, depend on the Secure Rural Schools program to ensure there is adequate funding not only for schools but also for road maintenance as well as search and rescue operations,” Neguse said in a statement to the Summit Daily News. “With such a large portion of the county consisting of national forests — over 300,000 acres between Arapaho National Forest and White River National Forest — the supplemental funding from timber receipts is absolutely essential.”
“As a rural district, Summit Schools depends on (Secure Rural Schools) funds to provide for the needs of our students,” Summit School District superintendent Kerry Buhler said. “We greatly appreciate the bipartisan efforts for these funds to continue so that we may give our students what they deserve in terms of programming and support.”
HR-3048 has been referred for consideration to both the U.S. House Agriculture Committee and the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.
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