With half the time gone, the budget remains

Last week, I told you about the debate on the rules review bill that includes the new rules regulating the oil and gas industry.

Those proposed rules span over 175 pages and include new protections for wildlife and public health. The debate centers around whether the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC) exceeded its authority as granted by legislation we passed two years ago.

Many legislators at the Capitol have neither oil and gas development in their districts nor the impacts, both positive and negative, from that activity. I have both. Trying to explain to my fellow legislators that we need to be careful as we balance these interests was only partially successful, because it’s not the Colorado they know firsthand.

In committee and on the House floor, I argued in support of some of the amendments that would have lessened the impact of the new rules on private property rights. I also strongly opposed the appeals process currently in the proposed rules as being inconsistent with the number of times the original legislation said we should develop a permitting process that provides for a timely and efficient procedure to get to a drilling permit. The phrase “timely and efficient” was used six times in that legislation which makes it clear that we didn’t want a bureaucratic process that could drag out too long.

Unfortunately, these amendments, which I truly felt would improve the rules and be consistent with the bill’s legislative history, didn’t pass. However, the COGCC announced late in the week that they would hold a special hearing in May to take another look at the appeals process and I hope they address the concerns that I, and other legislators, raised in objection to that section of the new rules.

The choice I faced was whether to support the agencies’ rules included in the rule review bill, including those on oil and gas, or to vote against the whole bill. Based on the amount of input from the district overwhelmingly in favor of the new oil and gas rules and knowing that both the COGCC and the legislature can return to correct proven problems with the rules once they are in place, I voted for the bill.

While the debate over oil and gas rules consumed the most attention and energy, much else is going on. We’ve passed the midpoint of the session, yet we still have the budget for next year and many other bills to consider, some with significant financial impacts.

The introduced bill that removes the 6-percent spending limit is one of those bills.

I’m listening closely to the debate and following the negotiations on the bill affecting the spending limit. As currently written, I don’t support it for a number of reasons, but as I’ve said many times, our current state fiscal process isn’t sustainable. The way Colorado’s budgeting is constitutionally set up, we can’t get away from spending mandates when the economy is in the tank and we can’t adjust for recovery efforts after an economic downturn. No household could survive like this and neither can your state government. Bipartisan conversations are going on right now to see if the legislature can agree on reasonable changes to propose to the people to vote on in the near future.

While in Denver for the session, I’ve been invited to speak on panels and to groups on criminal justice and health care reform efforts. I’m really encouraged by the number of people who see what isn’t working well and how that impacts our state’s budget and people. It’s a particularly challenging session given the economic climate and the number of controversial bills, but I’m still loving the job.