The first day back from Denver never felt sweeter for state Sen. Jack Taylor.
The Steamboat Springs Rep--ublican returned to town Thursday night, three days after the conclusion of a contentious legislative session marked by ethical scandals, the passage of a smoking ban for restaurants and bars, debates about state immigration laws, and reform for public employee pension funding.
As he cleared an irrigation ditch at his Strawberry Park home Friday afternoon, Taylor brushed aside much of the partisan, election-year wrangling and said he is proud of the work that was done during the past four months at the Capitol -- particularly his House Bill 1201, which will pump $20 million a year into state tourism promotion.
"That's the culmination of 14 years of effort, for the entire 14 years I've been in the Legislature," said Taylor, the senior lawmaker on the Western Slope. "The bill is huge for the state of Colorado."
Promoting Colorado as a tourist destination, across the country and overseas, will bring hundreds of millions of dollars to Colorado's general fund, local governments and transportation needs, Taylor said.
"The return of investment on this is absolutely incredible," Taylor said, citing studies that say for every dollar spent on tourism promotion, a conservative estimate of $10 -- and as many as $30 -- could be spent in the state.
"I feel confident that we'll get our share of that on the Western Slope," he said.
Taylor was the primary Senate sponsor of HB 1201, which is funded by state gaming revenues. State Rep. Al White, a Winter Park Republican who represents Steamboat Springs' House District 57, was the bill's primary sponsor in the House of Representatives.
The House gave final approval to the bill earlier this month. Taylor said that at a May 3 rally outside the Capitol, Governor Bill Owens pledged to sign the bill into law.
"It's a done deal," Taylor said. "It's as permanent as anything can be down there (in Denver) -- it will be a line item on the budget each year."
Taylor said he thought the media wrongly overlooked his tourism bill, because of a "sensationalized" focus on ethical violations that, in March, caused Democratic Sen.Deanna Hanna of Lakewood to resign and Littleton Rep--ublican Joe Stengel to step down as House Minority Leader.
"To me, the tourism bill is sensational, yet it never got much press," Taylor said.
Stengel was criticized for billing taxpayers for "per diem" payments nearly every day last summer and fall, including days when he was in Hawaii. Hanna resigned after the public release of her demand that a Realtor group pay her "reparations" for failing to endorse her political career.
Taylor said that for him, the true importance of the session was work such as the tourism bill and legislation to improve emergency response time for fighting wildfires.
"It's been my best year as a legislator," he said. "I had a great session -- a lot of things fell into place."
Taylor, 70, has two more sessions before his term ends in 2008. He said he is not ready to start thinking about next year.
"I want to bask in the wonderful sunlight of what got accomplished before I start thinking about what's going to happen next fall and winter," he said.
Taylor said he would spend much of his summer traveling to speaking engagements about the tourism bill.
"Getting the bill passed was an odyssey," he said. "Now, we start the new odyssey of applying that money to really enhance the presence of Colorado tourism in the global market."