Frosh legislator lands prominent panel post

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— Newly elected state Rep. Al White of Winter Park has yet to be sworn in and already he's moving up through the ranks in the Colorado Legislature.

White, a Republican whose 56th District includes Routt County and Steamboat Springs, has been named vice-chairman of the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee.

"I assume the Speaker (Doug Dean, R-El Paso County) recognized my 25 years of experience in business," White said. "I think it will be food for the district. A lot of important bills come through that committee. I feel quite honored"

White was at the state capitol on Tuesday participating in the third of four two-day orientation meetings for freshmen legislators. The orientation sessions have included mock floor and committee sessions as well as in-depth overviews of budget procedures.

"It's been very valuable," said, White, who was one of just three of the state's 25 new legislators who landed a committee vice-chairmanship.

Realistically, White admitted, term limits have had a significant impact on the ability of new legislators to land plum assignments. The former vice-chair of business affairs, Tambor Williams, R-Weld County, moved up to chairman after new state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, left the House due to term limits.

In addition to the Business Affairs Committee, White was appointed to the Education Committee. He said he is eager to tackle one of his campaign issues, seeing that a new school finance act addresses readjustment of the cost of living formulas for mountain communities on Colorado's Western Slope.

The cost of living formulas help to determine how much revenue in the form of locally collected property taxes are returned to individual school districts. White said the cost of living formula has fallen behind actual conditions in mountain towns, and school districts in his district aren't getting their fair share. The formulas were last adjusted in 1994, White said.

"The price of property has appreciated at such a rate that the formula is out of whack," White said. "We can't let it get worse and worse for our teacher salaries. Otherwise, teachers will stay three or four years because they love the lifestyle, but when they get tired of struggling and when they want to start a family, they'll leave."

Like Winter Park, Steamboat Springs is struggling to pay teachers because of limitations on state funding. Just this week, the RE-2 school board approved a relatively meager 2.25 percent salary increase for teachers for 2001.

White said the new education bill won't likely offer an overnight fix, because revising the cost-of-living formula represents a $120 million impact to the state. For that reason, the impact of a new formula would probably be spread out over several years.

"It's going to take a number of years to get up to speed," White said.

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