Kelly Sloan, The Business Times
Two state lawmakers discussed their victories and shared their frustrations about the latest legislative session during an annual review organized by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
State Rep. Ray Scott and State Sen. Steve King, both Republicans from Grand Junction, offered their takes on the session at the legislative wrap-up breakfast.
State Rep. Jared Wright, a Republican from Fruita, didn’t attend. State Rep. Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose, had a prior engagement and didn’t attend, either.
Scott said several measures he sponsored were enacted by the legislature, among them bills to commission a task force to study the accountability requirements of local school districts that wish to receive waivers from standardized statewide testing and provide tax incentives for alternative fuel-vehicles. A bill to allow remote testimony at legislative hearings was a priority for the Grand Junction chamber.
At the same time, though, Scott described the role of a state lawmaker in the minority party as limited to “being a roadblock” to bad legislation.
He pointed to the yearly budget battles as a major area of contention at the Capitol. “The state budget has grown $2 billion in two years. It’s like running a credit card with no limit.” While the Colorado Constitution requires a balanced budget, “there is some magical math to make that happen,” he added.
Scott said he was especially frustrated his request to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to attend a summit to discuss ways to improve the sluggish economy in Western Colorado has been largely ignored. “I made the request nearly six months ago and the governor can’t seem to set a date.”
Scott said several companies and industries have expressed interest in attending such a meeting, including Hewlett Packard, Union Pacific, Encana and WPX as well as industry representatives and proponents of liquefied natural gas export terminals and coal exports.
King was among the sponsors of legislation signed into law establishing a state-based aerial fire-fighting fleet. Under the legislation, the state will purchase two fire-spotting aircraft and contract with private operators for the use of four fixed-wing tankers and four helicopters.
King alluded to the legislation in describing what he sees as federal mismanagement of public lands. “We have 4 million acres of dead trees,” King said, adding “a catastrophic fire on the West Slope would be devastating.”
A major fire also could affect the Colorado River watershed and downstream users — “Sixty percent of Southern California water is from the Colorado River,” he said. “And we have a state and federal administration that doesn’t seem to care.”
King also levelled criticism at environmental groups that he said have not acted to oppose federal policies that contributed to the build-up of dead timber throughout Western Colorado. “Not one environmentalist stood up to fight the federal government to protect Colorado’s watersheds,” he said, adding “we can’t let radical environmentalists continue to walk all over Western Colorado.”
King went on to describe how, in his view, local and state and governments should push back against federal interference, “not with guns, but by building a good case in a court of law.” He cited as an example the need to “build a case for equal protection when the (Bureau of Land Management) wants to cancel existing oil and gas leases.”
King praised the chamber and its members for staying involved in the legislative process. “Government does not build business, free enterprise builds business,” he said.
After the breakfast, King said some of the biggest effects on Western Colorado businesses could be determined by the upcoming election.
“We spent 120 days not talking about one of the bigger issues on the radical environmental agenda, which is fracking.” King said that several proposed ballot initiatives aimed at curtailing oil and gas production and the governor’s talk of a special session to address some of the oil and gas issues that didn’t come up in the regular session “speak to an agenda that could spell disaster for business throughout the state.”
Carol Skubic, chairwoman of the chamber’s governmental affairs committee, said interactions with elected officials, including video conferences during the legislative session, constitute a critical part of the chamber mission. “We consider governmental affairs our most important mission at the chamber,” Skubic said, “We represent business, and having the opportunity to have those legislative video conferences every two weeks is critical. It gives our businesses and leaders in the community a forum to directly voice their concerns to our elected officials on a regular basis.”
Skubic said the chamber and local businesses also harbor some of the same frustrations as elected officials. She said it’s “very disappointing” Hickenlooper hasn’t yet set a date for an economic summit.