Majority Democrats wage war on rural Coloradans

(Editors note, this is a significantly expanded version of an op-ed that originally appeared in the Denver Post on May 11)

Throughout the 2013 legislative session, we have done our best to fight for the interests of our constituents from the Western Slope and Eastern Plains. It hasn’t been easy. Democratic legislators have crafted many urban-centered policies and forced them down the throats of rural Coloradans. In response, we’ve made an effort to let our constituents know about the all-out attack on rural Colorado going on at the state capitol. Unfortunately, some see our complaints as nothing more than a political move.

In a recent Denver Post editorial, columnist Alicia Caldwell insinuated that our grievances against the actions of urban legislators were insincere, stating that “to be blunt, it’s a canard. A ruse. A political construction designed to drive wedges between Coloradans.”

If anyone’s driving wedges, it’s the Governor. The Democrats’ assault on rural Colorado is as real as the paper their bills are printed on.

Anyone who ignores that and writes that our concerns for our constituents are political while suggesting there is a benefit to relocating homeless Veterans from Denver to La Junta is engaging in projection.

Caldwell’s main point is that, even though rural areas may be disadvantaged by some of the bills introduced this session, there are other bills that clearly benefit rural communities. SB 213, for instance, reforms school funding. Caldwell claims the bill would provide a lot of money for rural Colorado schools, but as residents of rural Colorado, we can assure you that it won’t. The bill is aimed at helping at-risk urban schools, not those in rural areas. In fact, it may raise some of our constituents’ property taxes.

icon_op_edProperty taxes in rural Colorado are determined by an area’s mill levy. According to SB 213, our school districts would be forced to choose between raising their mill levy and receiving less state funding. Should the school district raise the mill levy, local property taxes would rise. You don’t have to take our word for it. You can ask any of the superintendents from Senator Roberts’ district who came to the capitol to testify against the bill. Like many of the bills heard this session, SB 213 was conceived by Denver legislators with little understanding of our communities.

Our culture, our pocket books and our economy are being challenged.

Take the gun bills, for example. Limiting magazine sizes or extending background checks may not seem like a huge step to those who live in Denver, which already has pretty restrictive gun laws. But in rural areas, a gun is as common a sight as a stop sign or a pickup truck. Most of us learned to shoot before we were ten years old and have received guns as presents and family heirlooms all our lives. Guns are an integral part of the culture of rural Colorado; an attack on guns is an attack on that culture.

And there’s a reason guns have such cultural significance. Someone who makes their living selling livestock needs to be able to defend their animals from coyotes and other predators. Someone who lives an hour away from the nearest police station needs to be able to ward off home intruders on their own. The urban legislators spearheading the gun bills don’t face these problems or even think about them. They just don’t understand.

Several oil and gas bills also found their way to the senate this year. Measures like HB 1269 and HB 1316 place further burdens on Colorado’s oil and gas industry, which is already overregulated. Bills like these increase expenses for oil and gas companies and make them uncertain of their political future.

Job growth will be severely curtailed by further restricting the oil and gas industry, which is one of the biggest employers in Colorado, especially rural Colorado. The more regulations the legislature places on the industry, the more jobs Colorado will lose. Weld County, for example, is dependent on its booming oil businesses for economic success; if those companies fail or are forced to move, everyone in the county suffers.

Senate Democrats even refused to fully support the few measures that would have helped rural Colorado, like SB 245. This bill creates the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps, which would have purchased aircraft to fight forest fires. Though SB 245 passed the senate, the Democrats refused to fund the new division. With no money to pay for it, it’s unlikely that the Firefighting Air Corps will ever take off. Once again, the well-being of rural Colorado took a backseat to big city interests.

The biggest insult to rural Coloradans is SB 252, which would require rural areas to obtain 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, a 100% increase. The Republicans in the House have referred to SB 252 measure as “radical and costly”; that’s because it is.

The bill would drastically raise electricity rates for rural Coloradans. An increase in energy costs may not seem like a huge inconvenience when you’re paying to power your house or apartment, but when you need to water your fields with electrically-powered center-pivot sprinklers that use about $12,000-$18,000 of electricity per field per year, a rate increase is a grave concern. SB 252 will cost the average farm family about $16,000 per year.

It’s not just the farms that would be affected. Rural school districts would see their electricity bills increase dramatically. SB 252 would cost Wray’s school about $40,000 per year in additional electricity costs. All told, SB 252 would take over $1 million out of rural Colorado’s classrooms. They’ll have to cut programs and fire teachers just to keep the lights on.

Rural electric co-ops would be hurt irreparably by this bill; their costs would increase severely. These co-ops don’t operate like the power companies in Denver and other large cities. They are owned by the people of rural Colorado. A drastic cost increase for rural electric co-ops means a drastic cost increase for rural Coloradans. Urban legislators just don’t understand.

The Governor and his allies have attacked our culture, safety, pocket books and economy.  No unfulfilled school funding promise or refurbished prisons can make up for that. Everything we’ve seen this year has convinced us that urban legislators simply do not understand the concerns of rural Colorado. They should stop plowing over rural opposition to their ideology and leave our constituents alone.

State Senator Greg Brophy, R-Wray, represents Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson, Lincoln, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, Weld and Yuma counties. State Senator Steve King, R-Grand Junction, represents Mesa County.  State Senator Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, represents Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan and San Miguel counties.

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