Urban Colorado legislators have not abandoned rural Colorado

Author: Paula Noonan - August 8, 2017 - Updated: August 8, 2017

Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Farmers and urbanites can be friends, despite their different residential environments.  While many rural Coloradans are Republicans and a majority of Front Range urban Coloradans are Democrats, rural Coloradans do get considerable legislative support from all Democrats, including urban lawmakers living in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins.

The 2017 session passed quite a few bills to mitigate the particular problems that come with living in rural Colorado.  The Rural Veterinary Education Loan Repayment Program is a good example.  Rural Colorado doesn’t have enough veterinarians, so the bill helps four young veterinarians per year repay up to $70,000 of their school loans if they practice in rural Colorado for four years.

The modest bill, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Joann Ginal of Fort Collins in the House and Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg from Sterling in the Senate, received a YES vote from every Democratic legislator.  Twenty-five House Republicans and 12 Senate GOPers voted NO, including several living in rural areas.

Sustainability of Rural Colorado, a grab bag of a bill, passed with every Democrat in both chambers supporting it and 16 House Republicans and 10 Senate Republicans against it.  Republicans voting NO included some suburban, western slope and eastern Colorado legislators.  The bill became necessary when Republicans voted down legislation to support rural hospitals that serve Medicaid patients.

The Sustainability bill also helps with transportation infrastructure.  An earlier bill to set up a sales tax to provide money for rural roads and bridge repair as well as improvements for urban transportation went down in a Senate committee when three suburban Republican legislators, Jack Tate from Arapahoe County, Tim Neville from South Jeffco, and Owen Hill serving eastern El Paso County, voted NO.  The Sustainability bill puts off a tax increase and provides substantially fewer dollars for rural road improvements.

A recent article in the Denver Post on the “Colorado Divide” talked about the difficulty of providing affordable child care in rural Colorado.  The Child Care Expenses Income Tax Credit Extension  that allows individuals with up to $25,000 adjusted gross income to get a child care credit passed with all Democrats voting YES and 45 Republicans in the House and Senate voting NO.

Another bill to address teacher shortages especially in rural Colorado passed with all YES votes from Democrats and 40 NO votes from Republicans. Only three Senate Republicans, Senate President Kevin Grantham, Larry Crowder from Alamosa, and Don Coram from southwestern Colorado voted YES.  GOP representative Marc Catlin from western Colorado is the only House Republican who voted YES.

The BEST Building Excellent Schools Technology Grant Funding bill using marijuana taxes to boost technology in rural Colorado schools received 51 YES votes from Democrats, 15 YES votes from Republicans, and 31 NO votes from Republicans.  Rural Republicans in the House who voted YES were Bob Rankin, Catlin, and Dan Thurlow.  The bill was more popular with rural Senate Republicans including Crowder, Coram and Senate President Grantham.

The bipartisan mill-levy override bill that equalizes funding between charter schools and traditional public schools passed with help from Democrats.  Some rural schools see the bill as further degrading their ability to provide enough money for regular school students.  Of 23 NO votes, all but one, from Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, came from Democrats.

The 2017 General Assembly record shows that rural Coloradans do get solid help from many urban Colorado legislators.  It also shows that sometimes the “Colorado Divide” happens when rural lawmakers don’t get behind legislation designed to give rural Coloradans a boost.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.