Joint Budget Committee Archives - Colorado Politics
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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandFebruary 20, 20185min1640

Former Colorado state Rep. Elwood Gillis of Lamar passed away Feb. 6 at the age of 83. Services were held Feb. 12 in Lamar.

Lee Elwood Gillis was born in Ballinger, Texas, on Aug. 29, 1934. He graduated from Stratford High School in 1952, earned a bachelor’s degree from West Texas State in 1956.

Gillis served in the Texas National Guard and the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. He attended Ranger School in 1957 and from there served 14 months in South Korea. Gillis rose to the rank of first lieutenant and was discharged in 1958.

A year later, working for Diamond Shamrock, Gillis made his way to Colorado, first to Pueblo and then to Lamar.

Gillis, a Republican served in the Colorado House from 1981 to 1990, including as chair of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) in the 1988 and 1990 sessions.  When he first ran for the state House, in 1980, he defeated a Democrat who had represented the southeastern Colorado district for 24 years. Gillis decided with his family that he would serve 10 years and that would be it, and he stuck to it.

He was considered a small government conservative, believing that the General Assembly ran too many bills. In a 1995 interview, Gillis said, “I went up there because I felt like that we had too much government, too many bills, too much regulation, and I don’t even know if I even introduced a bill the first year that I was up there. I was overwhelmed by the fact that after, when the session started, when I was up there we still had, there weren’t any limits. I think there were 1500 bills that were introduced. There were some legislators that were bragging on the fact that they had introduced 25 or 26 or 27 bills, and I thought, oh, my goodness. We’re going to pass all these bills and we’re going to just heap more and more regulations and more government on the backs of the citizens of this state. So, I really didn’t go up there with the intent of introducing any legislation.”

Gillis said he became interested in the budget process as a first-year lawmaker, and learned JBC from watching former Reps. Steve Durham and Tom Tancredo.

Former Rep. Brad Young, also of Lamar, said he was a teenager when he first met Gillis. Young said he wrote letters in support of Gillis to the editor of the local newspaper, which was owned by Democrats and was critical of Gillis. It eventually led to Young running Gillis’ last two campaigns, in 1988 and 1990. He told Colorado Politics that Gillis taught him how to campaign when Young decided to run for the House in 1992. “He had a strong presence in the Capitol, Young said. He believed “government had a tendency to expand and the checks and controls are our republican form of government.”

Gillis later served as mayor of Lamar and as a small businessman operated Lamar Oil Company, Green Diamond Fertilizer, Westwood Leasing and Storage, Lamar KOA Kampground, Hillcrest Ranch and as a real estate appraiser.

Gillis was proud of his Texas roots. The obituary from the Valley Memorial Funeral Chapel in Lamar noted he was interred in the Veteran’s Section at Fairmount Cemetery in Lamar, “located in what was previously, from 1836-1846, the Republic of Texas.”

Gillis’ beloved wife, Jeanette, passed away in 2012. He is survived by his daughters, Jayme (Jimmy) Greenfield of Buena Vista, Colorado and Sharon (Lance) Wilson of Wiley, Colorado and numerous family members.


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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandFebruary 11, 20184min249
The deadlocked vote last week over funding the Colorado Civil Rights Commission continues to draw reaction, as well as a Tuesday rally to defend the agency. Both the Division of Civil Rights and the Civil Rights Commission are up for a sunset review hearing on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., the first step in re-authorizing the […]

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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandJanuary 25, 20183min550
A broadband bill being fast-tracked this week through the General Assembly led a candidate for state treasurer to opine that Colorado’s expectations about broadband may not be realistic. During Thursday morning’s Senate debate on House Bill 1116, Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud said the bill raises concerns between what most rural Coloradans want from […]

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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandJanuary 24, 20186min249
The second bill to whip through the Colorado General Assembly  – on rural broadband – cleared the House Wednesday and is headed to the Senate. But the effort by lawmakers to get the bill to the governor post-haste may not produce the desired results. House Bill 1116 would task the state’s rural broadband deployment board […]

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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandJanuary 22, 20186min8490

The Joint Budget Committee is looking for a way to provide a big boost to Colorado’s investment in rural broadband, and a bill to do just that cleared the House Finance Committee Monday.

House Bill 1116 would allow the state to go after $250 million from the federal “Connect America” broadband grant program, although the state would have to obtain a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission to obtain the grant. Currently, states are prohibited from obtaining Connect America funds, but last May, the FCC granted New York that waiver. Colorado hopes to be the second state to get those dollars.

Under the bill, which is carried in the House by Republican Rep. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, the state’s broadband board would apply for the dollars and the waiver. The $250 million is normally the total over a ten-year period but Colorado’s application will be to get the entire amount all at once.

The broadband board would then disburse the funds to private companies through its own grant program. Connect America grants have already gone to telecomm companies in Colorado, such as CenturyLink, which received a $506 million grant to build out rural broadband in 33 states. The company could apply for another round of funding through the Colorado board, so long as it is for a different geographic area of the state than the original grant serves.

In his final State of the State address earlier this month, Gov. John Hickenlooper said that 80 percent of the state is now wired for high speed internet. By the end of his term, 85 percent of the state should be wired and the entire state by 2020, but that may take a lot of money that the state just doesn’t have.

But putting high speed broadband into rural communities left behind the Front Range’s booming economy is viewed as a matter of economic survival, for schools, hospitals and small businesses that can’t compete with dial-up modems.

The state has been slow to find the dollars to build out rural high speed internet. The only source to date has been the High Cost Support Mechanism, but lawsuits and other problems have slowed the transfer of those funds to a trickle. In 2017, the HCSM transferred $9.4 million to a separate broadband fund, but estimates to build out high speed internet could be anywhere from $150 million to $300 million.

Lawmakers are also working on legislation to transfer the HCSM in its entirety, over the next five years, to the broadband fund, but due to decreasing use of landline phones and cellular voice, which pays for the HCSM, those dollars are dwindling.

According to a JBC analysis, there is “no additional funding marked for rural broadband and no additional grant cycles are planned. This leaves the program with a lack of sustainable funding.”

The Connect America grant program could be the answer. According to the bill’s fiscal analysis, the program has nearly $2 billion available during the next decade.  The FCC said the program is “designed to ensure that consumers in rural, insular, and high-cost areas have access to modern communications networks capable of providing voice and broadband service, both fixed and mobile, at rates that are reasonably comparable to those in urban areas.”

The monies go to auction around the first of each year, which means Colorado has to move with a purpose to get that waiver. Rankin told the committee the bill has to be in the governor’s hands for signature within the next week.

The bill was approved on a 12-1 vote. It is one of two bills with JBC sponsorship that the committee hopes will help speed up Colorado’s efforts to connect rural Colorado with broadband service.

 

Photo by JC Burns, via Creative Commons license, Flickr