How did rural Colorado fare after legislative session?
A handful of bills from the 2019 General Assembly showed that under Democratic control of the General Assembly and governor’s office meant agriculture and water issues important to the Eastern Plains got limited attention.
Among the successes, lawmakers approved late-session bills providing tax exemptions for agriculture and efforts to reduce costs for rural health care (although those issues were discussed more as a problem for mountain communities, not the Eastern Plains).
Among the downsides: Continued efforts to boost rural economic development took a hit, in part due to the way Senate Democrats managed the 2019 calendar.
On May 23, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law two measures that will provide tax relief to farmers and ranchers. Under House Bill 1329, wholesale sales of fertilizer went back to being tax exempt, a reversal of a decision by the state Department of Revenue in 2014. That decision didn’t come to light until last year, and it resulted in at least one audit that would have required retroactive tax payments.
However, the measure, which went into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, not only canceled the existing tax but made that cancelation retroactive to 2014.
A second tax exemption — on ear tags and electronic ear tag readers — will go into effect Sept. 1. House Bill 1162, co-sponsored by Rep. Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells, added ear tags to the definition of farm equipment exempt from state sales and use taxes.
The law’s fiscal analysis said there were 11,700 cattle producers, although that data is from 2012; and that the state’s calf crop in 2017 was around 830,000 calves. The number of hogs marketed in that same year totaled 600,000.
Both bills had the support of Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo.
Economic development for rural Colorado? Eh, not so much. Senate Bill 67 fell victim to the clock and died two days before the session’s end.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Don Coram of Montrose, sought $2.5 million per year for start-up businesses in rural communities.
Polis says health care is a priority
Among the health care bills designated for rural communities:
House Bill 1241 would have required the University of Colorado to provide training and scholarships for students who commit to going to rural “or frontier” areas of the state that suffer from a health professional shortage.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has identified Washington and Cheyenne counties, along the Eastern Plains, as areas with geographic shortages for primary care physicians. Virtually every other county along the Eastern Plains is also designated as a health professional shortage area based on income.
Almost every county in the state, save for the metro Denver area and northern suburbs, is designated as short of professionals in mental health, and most Eastern Plains counties are short of professionals in oral health, either based on geographic location or income.
But the measure languished on the calendar in the House for more than six weeks and died for lack of action.
Polis cited health care as a top priority in 2019, stating in his Jan. 10 State of the State address that “there’s no reason anybody [should] lose their savings or their home simply trying to keep up with rising health care costs. And there is no reason a family in Glenwood Springs or Gunnison should pay twice as much for health care as a family in Denver.”
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