Sen. Rankin, Rep. Roberts talk about last legislative session in Steamboat town hall

Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, who represents the state’s 8th Congressional District, and Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, who represents the state’s 26th Congressional District, speak during a town hall meeting Wednesday evening at the Yampa River Botanic Park. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Routt County’s two state legislators, Republican Sen. Bob Rankin and Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts, talked about key accomplishments from the recently completed legislative session during a joint town hall meeting Wednesday night in Steamboat Springs.

Rankin and Roberts both spoke about what they did on a statewide level, as well as for their district during the outdoor meeting that attracted a crowd of about 30 people.

“We both represent rural Colorado, and believe me, that’s sometimes us against the city folks,” Rankin said.

Rankin holds a prestigious position as one of two Western Slope representatives on the Joint Budget Committee, which is a bipartisan, six-person team of representatives from each house that puts together the state budget.

This team worked in Denver in person through the early months of 2021, even when the Legislature was not in session because of the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, they cut about 25%, or $3.5 billion, from the state budget, but Rankin said the state is rebounding well.

“The budget went from by far the worst budget in the history of Colorado, and all of a sudden, we started to rebound to a degree that was totally unexpected,” Rankin said.

About $2.6 billion of the money that was cut from the budget came back, and the rebound has continued since, Rankin said.

“The budget forecast going forward, and the year we just finished, are by far the best in the history of the state of Colorado, including about a 30% general fund reserve,” Rankin said. “We have been fighting for years to get 7% reserves.”

The state has also seen a lot of money — $40 billion when including direct payments to Coloradans — from the federal government, and Rankin said Colorado just received a $3.8 billion federal check they are figuring out how to spend.

A lot of the budget this year went to pandemic relief, said Roberts, who is the chair of the House Business Committee. He was the sponsor on several of the relief bills, including event incentives to drum up more event business and a bill that allows restaurants to continue to sell to-go alcohol.

“It was actually the sole reason why many of our restaurants stayed in business during the pandemic, so this is a great way to allow them to keep some extra revenue,” Roberts said.

Roberts also was the sponsor on the bill that created the Economic Relief Cash Fund, which will set aside a large portion of that federal assistance to be doled out by an economic recovery task force over the next few months.

Lowering the cost and getting more health care options in rural Colorado have been important issues for Roberts since he was first elected in 2017. This session he was able to pass the Colorado Option bill, which requires insurance companies to offer a standardized insurance plan where they already offer coverage.

“A lot of money got spent to oppose this bill,” Roberts said. “Most of that was completely unrelated to what was actually in the bill.”

Rankin said the money he was able to get included in the budget for wildfires was what he was most proud of, as several of the biggest fires last year were in his district. He was a prime sponsor on five bills that put more money into mitigation, detection, suppression and recovery from wildfires, an issue Rankin said has not gotten a lot of funding attention in the past.

“We had to go try to explain to city folks that we needed to fight fires,” Rankin said, adding that after last year, the Senate didn’t even debate his bills because of the broad support.

One question from the audience, posed to Rankin, pointed out that Colorado’s open lands and environment are part of the reason recovery has been so strong, and Rankin was asked what the legislators were going to do to continue to protect them.

“I don’t think you can live in Colorado without being an environmentalist,” Rankin said, adding that just because he is a Republican does not mean he doesn’t think protecting the environment is important.

Still, he noted he represents most of the coal mines, many oil and gas wells, and many people whose jobs depend on these industries.

Rankin said he believes Colorado’s climate goals are too ambitious even though he said a transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable.

“I do believe we ought to take into account those human beings, their livelihoods, their expectations about their future,” Rankin said. “I think we need to balance that.”

Several pieces of legislation were passed this session regarding climate. Roberts highlighted a bipartisan bill that incentivizes companies that have power plants to reinvest in those communities. Roberts said the bill particularly helps a community like Hayden.

“When this transition happens, that means these workers will get to stay in the town of Hayden,” Roberts said. “That is an example of prioritizing both our green energy future, as well as workers who are in the fossil fuel industry right now.”

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