Town Hall Meeting Sparks Tax, Business and Immigration Concerns Rick Langenberg

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Just read my lips: No more new taxes or fees, or for that matter, ridiculous changes to our constitution. Get involved in the politics of your local community, and don’t be afraid to complain to your elected representatives.

These are some of the themes that dominated a town hall meeting last Saturday in Woodland Park, hosted by state House Minority Leader Polly Lawrence and Senator Kevin Grantham.

The state representatives fielded a bevy of concerns from a small but enthusiastic crowd of residents and business owners, ranging from illegal immigration and heroin problems, to tax concerns and issues regarding the Woodland Park city government.

The representatives didn’t hesitate in stressing their staunch anti-tax views. Moreover, they made a strong pitch for a “no” vote on Proposition 69, calling for a $25 billion tax hike to fund health care costs for all Colorado residents and their family members. This constitutional amendment faces a vote on Nov. 8. Revenue for the proposed ColoradoCare system will occur through additional taxes and fees on salaries and tips, rents, social security benefits, business income and capital gains, just to name a few of the possible targets for the extra money.

Lawrence described Proposition 69 as the “most dangerous thing proposed in Colorado in my lifetime.” Both she and Grantham depicted the ballot issue as a serious job and economic development killer for Colorado. They strongly urged a “no” vote.

Their concerns were echoed by local residents and business owners. “They are going to kill us,” blasted Elijah Murphy, a Woodland Park business owner and new member of the town’s Downtown Development Authority, in describing the state and federal government’s attempt to grow through assessing more taxes and fees. In too many cases, he warned the legislators and the crowd of residents that actual extra taxes are disguised through fees.

Another problem associated with the health care amendment, according to the state representatives, deals with the fact that Colorado’s constitution can be amended through a relatively flexible petition process. As a result, they want to raise the bar for constitutional amendments through requiring a 55 percent approval margin by the voters, and making sure that a minimum amount of signatures from registered voters are collected in 35 different senate districts throughout the state in order to garner a spot on the ballot.“We should not have a constitution that is so easy to amend,” said Lawrence. “Make this work within our government,” she added in stressing the importance of representative government. “This is what your elected representatives are for.”

They also opposed efforts by state Democrats to force a minimum wage increase through what they referred to as fining companies that don’t comply with a $12.50 minimum hourly rate. According to the state leaders, these efforts are fueled by elected representatives who have never been involved in running or working with private businesses.

The state leaders, however, took the Fifth on possible problems with the Woodland Park city government. Several representatives of the business community raised concerns about auditing and tax concerns, stemming from a recent sales tax levy approved by the voters and whether the citizens weren’t told the truth about property levies declining. Another resident Trish Woolard, expressed displeasure with the lack of cooperation she has received from local leaders in trying to garner support for a kite festival. At the same time, she lauded the encouragement she received from Lawrence.

The state leaders urged the group to not hesitate in taking their concerns before the respective city councils and county boards.

“They are very responsive when people start complaining,” said Grantham, who formerly served as a Canon City councilman.
Lawrence and Grantham didn’t respond to any of the specific concerns raised by the residents regarding local government problems. They indicated this was outside of their jurisdiction, but stated they would do what they could to help. If she knew this was an issue, the House leader said she would have invited Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery to the forum.

Progress reached in Creek Black Hawk tug of war
One local issue, though, the two state leaders did address dealt with the ongoing fight between the city of Cripple Creek and Black Hawk. “There has been a real tug of war going on between Cripple Creek and Black Hawk,” quipped Lawrence.

As one of their accomplishments in the 2016 session, the two cited new successful legislation that would allow the state auditor’s office to scrutinize the way historic preservation monies are spent in the three Colorado gaming towns.
“The uses of these monies are very different in the gaming towns,” said Lawrence.

Grantham went further and accused Black Hawk of outright abusing the system by using the monies for infrastructure projects to assist a 33-story casino resort and for enhancing the mayor’s home. He said it usually is not the government’s intent to poke “their nose on any business,” but this is an issue that involves the state law regarding limited stakes gaming.
But more than anything, they both described the legislation as a way will clearly determine how these monies can be spent in the respective gaming towns.

In fact, contrary to statewide media reports, both Lawrence and Grantham described the 2016 session as fairly successful and active. Grantham said that 387 bills were sent to the governor for his signature.

And although he doesn’t always agree with Hickenlooper, Grantham did laud the governor for his support in opposing the transfer of prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention camps (GTMO) to corrections facilities in Fremont County. “There was light at the end of the tunnel. Progress was made one way or another,” said the state senator. He was referring to the fact that state Senate approved a staunch resolution against the transfer of GTMO prisoners, but this effort was rejected by the state House. Eventually, the governor assisted Fremont County’s effort in opposing this transfer.

Lawrence echoed similar views about an active session, and noted that about 90 percent of the legislation approved involved much cooperation between the Democrats and Republicans.

As for other issues raised by the forum attendees, concerns were voiced regarding the local heroin problem and the rise of illegal immigration across Colorado.

Lawrence agreed that a serious drug epidemic exists in Colorado. “It is a problem. We have some significant issues with drugs in Colorado.” She agreed that changes have to occur with the way drug sentences are handled for more serious controlled substances.

One local resident also raised a big question about immigration, saying he didn’t mind different cultures assimilating more, but he noted, “I am against people who want to kill me. It is an invasion.”

The legislators agreed with these sentiments, but indicated their hands were tied in making policy changes due to the “political correct” culture that dominates many state government decisions.