Teller And Rural Areas Gaining More Clout

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Expanded gaming bids losing steam
by Rick Langenberg:



Call it rural power or the fight against big city-oriented tax and spend laws.

Last week, Teller County Commissioner Norm Steen came out verbally swinging and made it clear that representatives from rural areas like Teller aren’t going to play second fiddle to the big cities in Colorado any longer. Moreover, he stressed that rural county representatives are taking an aggressive stand and are more united and stronger than ever before.

At issue are a number of bills pending in the legislature that could impact Teller County. At the same time, county representatives are lobbying for some legislative efforts that could enhance telecommunication technologies in the county, especially in paving the way for more broadband and Wi-Fi access, an effort that Steen sees as a big economic development push. Plus, on the other side of the coin, the commissioners are supportive of a pro-historic preservation legislative movement, orchestrated by the city of Cripple Creek, which would put a clamp on some of the historic spending abuses occurring in Black Hawk. “There are a lot of good things happening,” said Steen, who made a big plug at last week’s regular meeting for the growing power of rural counties in Colorado. He said many representatives in rural counties are communicating with each other. And even with a Democrat-controlled state House and Senate and a governor’s office, he believes rural county representatives and voters can make a big difference.

For the most part, he reiterated that rural representatives are strongly against any tax or spending plans, under the guise of school or road improvements. “People in Colorado don’t want to pay additional taxes,” said Steen.“We are very happy with the roads,” added Steen, who expressed concern for possible sales tax hike pursuits. As for some themes outlined by commissioners of rural areas, he stressed that “local control is very important.” “Rural Colorado still matters,” concluded Steen, a comment that received much praise.

All three commissioners, in their reports last week, stressed that a vital part of their job consists of playing legislative defense in Denver, especially for bills that could raid the county’s wallet. They also are strongly monitoring efforts that could have a negative impact on the Cripple Creek gambling industry.

Expansion fever fizzling out

Last week, the commissioners delivered some good news along the gaming expansion front. At least legislatively, previous bids for proposed horse track gambling and gaming in additional cities appears to be losing support. The Action 22 group, which represents Southern Colorado, took a stand against the gaming expansion measures, according to Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder. However, these efforts could resurface in the form of ballot initiatives. But this would require state-wide petition campaigns and a majority vote by Colorado residents to amend the constitution.

The most pressing issue is a plan for thousands of video lottery terminals, slots and table games at current and future horse tracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties. In addition, plans are in the works for limited stakes gaming, similar to the gambling activity occurring in Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City, in the town of De Beque, located 30 miles east of Grand Junction.
Plans also have been mulled for gaming in Trinidad, but no formal effort has been finalized there.

Plus, the annual fight launched by Gilpin County and Black Hawk to change the way gaming revenue is distributed in a way that would seriously impact Teller County and Cripple Creek, appears dead for this year. With a Democrat-controlled legislature, Commission Chairman Dave Paul and other leaders feared that Democratic Senator Jeanne Nicholson would try to re-introduce a package calling for the change in gaming distribution.

But last week, Paul expressed cautious optimism that the pro-Gilpin bid won’t occur for the 2014 legislative session. In the past, this plan, which conflicts with the current gaming amendment, has been rejected by the gaming commission and the courts. However, Gilpin officials have refused to throw in the towel. This year, the county has employed a lobbyist to help track the pending state legislation and to defend their interests better. In fact, the county, the city of Cripple Creek, the local casino association and the CC&V mine, all have lobbyists on board.
“That has really made a big difference,” said Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray White, in describing this collective legislative support.

One bill that probably won’t move forward this year is a measure, proposed by Cripple Creek, which would better define and outline how historic preservation funds can be used. White said Cripple Creek is still doing some preparatory work and will probably introduce this effort next year.