Steamboat Springs The crippling effects of wildland fires, drought and a sagging national economy in 2002 beg for solutions from Colorado lawmakers in 2003.
Routt County's representatives in the state Legislature are anxious to tackle the issues.
"We simply can't sit around on our hands and wait for the national economy to save us," said Assistant House Majority Leader Al White, R-Winter Park.
Both White and Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, are proposing legislation that would pump dollars into marketing the state and bolstering its economy. Each is also focusing on other individual legislative priorities, ranging from drought-management to telemarketing restrictions, health and auto insurance.
Each of the Western Slope lawmakers wields some additional political muscle in the Colorado General Assembly this term. Taylor chairs the Senate Finance Committee and serves as vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. White, along with his new role as the No. 2 Republican in the House, serves is vice chairman of the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee.
Pumping up tourism
Both White and Taylor are concerned Colorado's tourism industry isn't keeping up with the competition.
Taylor is the likely primary sponsor of Gov. Bill Owens' $19 million economic stimulus package, which includes $10 million earmarked for tourism promotion.
"I'm excited about the prospect that we can get some funding for the promotion of tourism," Taylor said. "It is timely."
The ripple effect of tourism is the kind of shot in the arm the state economy needs to get back on track, he said.
Taylor is also considering a proposal of his own for long-term funding of tourism promotion. His plan to put video gaming terminals at dog and horse racing tracks in Colorado would generate about $24 million to lure potential visitors to the state, he said.
White also supports Owens' 2003 economic stimulus package but like Taylor feels long-term funding sources need to be created as well. His approach is different from Taylor's.
White's bill, which he will introduce in committee on Tuesday, calls for reducing fees the state pays retailers for collecting sales tax and applying the excess to marketing the state. The plan would bring in $18 million to $20 million for tourism promotion, he said. Since Colorado stopped aggressively marketing itself, its 2.7 percent share of the national tourism market has dropped to 1.8 percent, he said.
"Given the shape of our economy, those are sorely missed dollars," he said.
Dealing with drought
Taylor expects a deluge of water legislation to come through the Agriculture Committee.
Many of those bills aren't going to survive their first hearing, he said.
He anticipates short-term solutions to the drought, such as upgrades to existing reservoirs, will come out of this session. Long-range fixes that involve construction of new reservoirs require a few more years of planning and implementation.
"We are trying to look at the near term with things we can do to respond quickly," he said.
White agreed that lawmakers should do what they can now to address dry conditions but cautioned reprieve won't come overnight.
"We don't want to overreact to this situation," he said, concerned lawmakers might try to push legislation that alters the state's water law.
"Our water law has stood our state in good stead for the last 125 years," White said. "To rush out and start meddling with an otherwise satisfactory water law ... may end up being more harmful. There is a certain sense that we need to tread lightly as we go forward."
Also on the agenda
White is optimistic about getting his bills through the state Legislature.
His proposal to add cellular phones to Colorado's no-call list got unanimous approval last week from the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee.
Telemarketers increasingly call cell phone numbers; those numbers have become more accessible while land lines have become less so, thanks to the state's no-call list, White said. Telemarketers must purchase the no-call list and cannot call any of the almost 1 million numbers now on the list, but that list does not currently include cellular numbers.
White's third major piece of legislation emphasizes healthy forest management.
White also serves on the House Education Committee, where, as a rural lawmaker, he often stands alone in the committee, outnumbered by legislators from urban areas. Proposals that are in the best interests of their metro schools are not always in the best interest of rural schools he represents, he said.
In the Senate, Taylor is proposing a plan to reinstate the Colorado Division of Insurance. He said his bill is sorely needed with so many problems beleaguering health and auto insurance.
"There needs to be oversight," he said. "This bill is critical, and we need to get it going fast out of committee."
The 2003 legislative session began Jan. 8 and is limited to a maximum of 120 days. Taylor and White recognize the challenge of having just four months to handle an $850 million deficit and find ways to meet critical needs in the state.
"We can't turn our back on all the issues that we are faced with," Taylor said, but budget cuts are inevitable. "We don't have a choice. Everyone is going to have to give a little bit. That's why we have to get this economy jumpstarted."