MONTROSE – State Sen. Ellen Roberts told a group of Montrose Republicans last week that she’s not giving up on passing legislation against “unfunded federal mandates.”
Roberts, a Durango Republican, said she is glad she served four years in the state House before serving in the Senate, but she’s still in the minority since the House now has a Republican majority and Democrats have the edge in the Senate.
“Some of the worst bills died in the House, and there’s something to be said for that,” she said.
Roberts was introduced by state Rep. Don Coram, who also used the podium to voice his support for the proposed uranium mill in Paradox Valley. He said Roberts has been “on the road a lot,” meeting with her constituents.
Roberts said she tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill to stop unfunded mandates and she plans to try again.
“I want to say to the federal government, ‘Stop doing this to us,’ but the bill sat for 89 days,” she said. “It came out of committee unanimously, with bipartisan support, but I couldn’t get it on the House floor.”
On the last day of the session, Roberts said, she got the bill introduced to the House floor, but it didn’t pass.
Colorado pays too high a price for programs that the federal government dictates to states, she said, programs for which the state has to foot the bill.
“Ten cents of every state dollar is spent on unfunded federal mandates telling us what we have to do but don’t give funding,” she said. “Unlike the federal government, our constitution requires that the budget must be balanced.”
Roberts said Colorado has “raided pots of money” to meet funding demands, and the only thing left is the Severance Tax.”
The tax was set up in 1977 to help communities affected by extraction of “nonrenewable natural resources” like oil and gas by providing funds to shore up infrastructure to offset negative effects.
The state Senate killed the bill in May, overriding Roberts’ efforts to protect oil and gas tax money for local governments.
According to the May 22 Denver Post, the Legislature has taken $266 million from Severance Tax accounts “to prevent some cuts to schools and other government functions in the last three years.”
Roberts recounted the battle, which she said would continue.
“Don ran the bill in the House and it went to the State Affairs Committee, called the “kill pen,” a sign that the Senate president did not want it to pass,” she said. “I went to the committee and said, ‘This creates jobs and would build sewage treatment plants and other infrastructure, but it did not pass.”
Coram was successful passing the bill in the House, she said, “giving it more air time,” adding that neither is giving up on passing it in the next legislative session.
“As Don says, ‘We’re not done,” she said. “Mesa County has the highest unemployment in the state.”
According to the Denver Post article, Coram pushed the bill through the House, but got it passed only after delaying its effect until 2013.
“Even that weakened version could not pass the Senate State Affairs Committee…which killed it on a 3-2 party-line vote, with Democrats voting to kill the bill,” the article stated.
Roberts said she serves on several Senate committees, as well as a committee to develop a state Health Exchange, which she said is another unfunded federal mandate.
“The cost of the exchange will be huge,” she said, “and within the Republicans and at the state level there is some difference of opinion. It’s like the EPA. You do your own or let the feds come in.”
She doesn’t support the Health Exchange, but is serving on the committee because a certain number of Republicans were required. She said Colorado has joined 26 other states to challenge the Affordable Health Care Act, which she referred to as “Obamacare.”
“I’m glad I can say that without people throwing things,” she said.
An appellate court is now hearing the states’ lawsuit, she said, and she is expecting a decision any day, and could potentially go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The president does not want it (the lawsuit) resolved before 2012,” she said. “I think it’s critically important to get the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve this.”
The Health Exchange will provide a marketplace where people can go for affordable health insurance through the state, she said, but the state should oversee the process, not the federal government.
Colorado has received directives from Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Roberts said, defining how to set up the Health Exchange. Roberts said the state doesn’t need to be told how to do the job.
“I want to write back and say, ‘We did this so the state of Colorado could create its own exchange, so back off,” she said.
Roberts said she doesn’t have a staff or an office, and she relies on staying in touch with her constituents to learn of their concerns. She can be reached at 970/259-1594 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I hear horror stories of what the Department of Revenue is doing to people,” she said. “It makes mistakes and is not business friendly. We need to turn that around.”