Today is opening day for my 8th and final legislative session as a State Representative.
As I look back on the blur of the last seven years, I can hardly believe how many projects I have been a part of. It’s been the honor of a lifetime And yet there is just an unbelievable amount of work that remains.
This year, many pressing priorities rapidly rise to the top of the list. The high cost of living in Colorado is putting incredible pressure on many families. Gun violence and black market fentanyl are plaguing our neighborhoods. Our air quality, especially in Denver metro, is bad–we are still in severe not-attainment for federal ground-level ozone requirements, and programs on air toxics and environmental justice established by legislation in recent years are just starting to get up and running. And TABOR’s stranglehold on the state budget continues to impair our ability to adequately fund K-12, higher education, behavioral health, and numerous other priorities.
But aren’t we finally paying off the BS factor* for K-12 funding this year, you might ask?
It’s complicated. The short answer is yes, we’re finally digging ourselves out of the K-12 funding hole that started with the Great Recession in 2009.
But that doesn’t mean we’re “fully funding” education, and it’s not because of the state budget–it’s entirely because of increased local property tax revenues, which have also been the subject of many conversations because of the financial pressure they put on low-to-middle income families and small businesses.
Public education advocates, while celebrating the progress, are also quick to point out that paying off the BS factor just gets us back to 1989 funding levels. That’s a pretty far cry from “fully funding.” And it’s not even close to enough to reduce class sizes to maximize the benefit for students or to pay teachers like the professionals they are and give them the means to live in the communities where they teach.
So yes, I’ll join celebrations of finally paying off the BS factor. But I’ll also keep talking about how much more work we have to do.
It’s important to remember that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. It is fiction to believe we can both slash taxes and increase education funding at the same time. The fundament problem is that we must grapple with which taxpayers need tax breaks, and which can afford to pay more of their fair share.
That is something that is incredibly difficult to do with property tax law, since high property values are not necessarily correlated with high incomes. Continuing my work on property taxes last year, I’m serving this year on a Property Tax Commission that includes four legislators and numerous local government leaders to try to work through this conundrum together. We’re grappling with the balance between the need to fund schools, fire districts, libraries, and child welfare offices with the economic pressures caused by high property taxes and rents, and we’re grappling with questions of state versus local control. I’m hopeful, but it’s a long road ahead.
I’ll also be spending a lot of time this session working on the legislation we built on the Substance Use Disorders interim committee. Our four bills, concerning prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery, will all require considerable work to get across the finish line. But there are many meaningful ideas contained in these four bills that I believe will continue Colorado’s progress and help us finally turn the corner on the overdose crisis.
Last but not least, I’m very excited about a bill that will be introduced today to expand access to high-quality primary care. I have worked on numerous health care reforms during my seven years, and over that time, I’ve increasingly gravitated towards two main themes. First, we need to keep moving away from fee-for-service payment models and toward value-based payment models. I truly believe these kinds of policies are the most transformative things a state can do without the federal government taking action.
Second, we need to invest in building integrated and coordinated care models that begin with a restoration of the role of primary care. It has long been understood that increasing investments in primary and preventive care not only deliver better health outcomes and health equity, but that they also drive down long-term costs by treating conditions early. And yet changes in the market–narrow insurance networks, hospital system consolidation, and others–have moved us in the wrong direction.
My bill will require every Colorado-regulated insurance company to include every primary care provider in every one of their insurance networks, provided that the PCP meets high quality standards and accepts advanced value based payments.
When people changes jobs and insurance plans, they often lose their primary care team, along with a critical doctor-patient relationship that improves health outcomes. Let’s change that.
*The Budget Stabilization Factor is an element of the K-12 school funding formula that accounts for how far short we’re falling of the requirements of Amendment 23, a voter-approved Constitutional amendment from 2000.
During the Great Recession, the 2009 Joint Budget Committee was faced with an impossible collision of two competing Constitutional amendments: the aforementioned Amdt 23, and TABOR. To balance the budget, they were forced to determine which provision to violate. One was slightly less unconstitutional than the other, due to a highly technical interpretation of the law.
The result has been 14 years of failing to meet A23’s K-12 funding targets.