Legislators push education funding, disaster recovery, economic security

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On opening day of the 2014 legislative session, the speaker of the state House of Representatives outlined an agenda that focuses on three goals:

• Helping Coloradans recover from the floods and wildfires we suffered in 2013

• Enhancing the economic security of all Coloradans

• Strengthening our education system to better prepare our students and make college more affordable

We’ve spent the first two-thirds of the session putting together bipartisan support for legislation that’s delivering on our goals.

As of Monday, we had delivered 121 bills to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature. Some of the first bills he signed are the ones to help our neighbors whose homes or businesses were damaged or destroyed by 2013’s twin disasters — the Black Forest fire in June and the Front Range floods in August and September.

We’ve invested nearly $145 million in flood disaster recovery funding and $24 million in wildfire prevention and control, with more in the pipeline. And we’ve reorganized the state’s disaster response infrastructure so we’re better prepared to deal with the next calamity, whenever it may come.

We’re moving on several fronts to enhance Coloradans’ economic security. Our state economy has shown resilience; unemployment has dropped to 6.1 percent and we have added 70,000 jobs in the last year. But we can’t let up in our efforts to spur economic development, bring new jobs and build a strong, sustainable economy.

We’re investing $10 million to spur the growth of our advanced industries, which are becoming the main drivers of our economy, and we’re boosting job training programs so more Coloradans can land the good-paying, highly skilled jobs that our high-tech sector is producing.

We’re helping low-income Colorado workers with their childcare expenses, so they can stay in their jobs instead of having to leave the workforce to take care of their kids.

The broad bipartisan support we’re getting for major components of our agenda reinforces my belief that we’re doing what’s best for the people of Colorado.

We’re finally able to give Colorado businesses a break on their property taxes. Almost 50,000 Colorado small businesses will qualify for this cut in their business personal property taxes. Colorado’s economy has recovered enough that now we can afford this tax break while still being fiscally responsible.

Last week, the House approved the state budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year and sent it to the Senate. We not only passed a balanced budget, but we increased the state’s rainy-day reserve by 30 percent, by more than $130 million.

As our state’s economy expands, state revenues continue to increase. But because this is the first robust budget in years, we’re facing a lot of pent-up demand to fund programs that were only minimally funded during the Great Recession. We have to prioritize wisely.

I’m proud that we’re placing our highest priority on filling in the gaps left by the severe cuts we had to make to public education during the recession years, and I’m happy to see strong support for our program on both sides of the aisle. Funding our children’s education is the single most productive way to make our state a better place. From family incomes to the inmate count in our state prisons, the ripple effects of education show up in every aspect of our society.

We’re boosting our investment in Colorado’s K-12 kids and classrooms by nearly $500 million. Because we know that by the end of the decade a college degree or certificate will be required for two-thirds of all Colorado jobs, we’re adding $100 million for higher education and restraining the upward trend of tuition costs.

The broad bipartisan support we’re getting for major components of our agenda reinforces my belief that we’re doing what’s best for the people of Colorado. I’m honored to be a part of this effort.

State Rep. Pete Lee’s House District 18 includes central and western Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. Contact him at sepetelee@aol.com or 303-866-2932.