Commissioner Padgett Addresses Federal Funding for County Programs at NACo Legislative Conference
Works to Help Carry Rural County Government Message to Washington D.C.
Washington, D.C. -- By some federal accounts the recession may have officially ended months ago, but not as far as Ouray County and other Colorado Counties local governments and schools are concerned. That was the message delivered to Capitol Hill by Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett (District 1) and more than 1,500 fellow county officials from across the country during the National Association of Counties' (NACo) 2011 Legislative Conference, March 5-9, in Washington, D.C. Colorado Counties had a pre-conference caucus on March 4 and ended their conference after a full day on Capitol Hill meeting with Colorado Senators and 6 Colorado Representatives on March 10.
The San Juan Mountains were well represented by Commissioner Padgett (Ouray County), Commissioner Art Goodtimes (San Miguel County), and Commissioners Wally White and Kellie Hotter (La Plata County). Altogether, the Colorado Counties delegation had 42 County Commissioners and 10 County Staff or other Elected County Officials, for a total of 52 NACo Legislative Conference attendees.
Colorado Counties are well known at NACo for their organization and team spirit, by holding the Colorado Counties state caucus the night before the start of the conference to determine group positions on NACo resolutions and federal policies affecting county governments.
During the Conference attendees attend leadership seminars, Steering Committee meetings, Caucus meetings such as the Colorado caucus, Western Interstate Region caucus, and Rural Action Committee caucus. Commissioner Padgett attended all of these. Schedules are crammed, with sessions or meetings starting as early as 7am and going until 5:30pm.
Steering Committees have members from states including Alaska and Hawaii throughout the U.S. These committees help shape federal policies affecting County governments and send communications in the form of letters and resolutions to federal legislators, departments such as the Interior Department, and the President on matters affecting counties. Commissioner Padgett was elected to a two-year term by her Colorado Commissioner peers on the Public Lands Steering Committee. Her term is from January 2011 to January 2012. Her conference fees, travel, and hotel during the conference were paid by the Public Lands Steering Committee at no cost to Ouray County tax payers.
Resolutions contemplated by the Public Lands Steering Committee during this conference included the recent discussion and a split vote on communicating opposition to Secretarial Order #3310 on Wild Lands; supporting a change in Forest Service personnel organization to place law enforcement officers under the direction of Forest Supervisors (timely based on Ouray County's recent discussion with our local USFS regarding the backcountry ranger for jeep roads); and supporting the exemption of renewable biomass combustion emissions from the EPAs "Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule".
Presentations at the Public Lands Steering Committee included one on illegal marijuana growing operations in western National Forests and development of an "All Lands, All Hands" Natural Resource Academy to help community-based collaborative approaches to natural resource planning, project design, and implementation across jurisdictional boundaries. Subcommittee meetings focused on federal land payments to counties including the Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments, federal land management, and gateway communities.
Educational sessions offered the opportunity to learn about federal grant opportunities and gain greater understanding of emerging federal issues, and key NACo initiatives including the County Works, Veterans and Military services, and Restoring the Partnership campaigns.
Commissioner Padgett met with the NACO Prescription Drug Card Program administrators. Ouray County will be rolling out this free program around April 1st. It will allow residents to use a free card to obtain many of their prescriptions at a discount. Arapahoe County stated it has saved their citizens hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Educational sessions were recorded this year, so that Commissioners could listen to recordings of sessions they missed while attending other concurrent sessions. Sessions attended by Commissioner Padgett included presentations and discussion on foreclosure; changes to the Clean Water Act; issues on siting of Renewable Energy components; and cutting-costs of County Government with technology.
Other highlights of this conference were speakers that included U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Admiral Mike Mullen, MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Joe Scarborough, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), House Natural Resources Committee Chair Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica.
Many of the speakers publically concurred with NACo President Judge Glen Whitley's recent letter to President Obama and NACo Resolution on the federal deficit. Key points made by President Whitley and NACo were that Congress and the President cannot solve budget deficit by only cutting domestic, non-military discretionary spending that makes up 12% of the annual federal budget "on the backs of the American people and local governments". One speaker said that in the 1970s non-miliatary, discretionary spending was 55% of the annual federal budget. Several speakers acknowledged that the war in Iraq & Afghanistan is costing over $2 billion per week, and is using borrowed money to be financed. They said that it was impossible to balance a budget if "entitlements are off the table, revenues are off the table, and defense is off the table". The repeated theme from both the Republican and Democrat speakers was that not investing in education, infrastructure, and innovative research and development is foolish.
The Conference concluded with a long day on Capitol Hill for the Colorado county officials. Leaving at 6:45 am they first had "the most expensive bagel you will ever buy" with Senators Bennet and Udall. County attendees had to pay $31 in cash each to cover shared transportation to the Hill ($9), and shared orange juice, coffee, and bagels ($22) for themselves and the Senators. However, the opportunity to have an intimate discussion with the Senators and their staff's for a half-hour each, is productive at making county priorities known and strengthening relationships and partnerships with our federal legislators and their staffs. Thus, while steep, it is the price of doing business in Washington, D.C.
Colorado Commissioners discussed 6 topics that had been voted on by the Colorado counties as being important, and presented each Senator and Representative with talking points on each topic, an executive summary on PILT with maps of how Colorado's funds are allocated, and a map of SRS fund allocations. The 6 topics discussed were:
· the importance of not imposing unfunded mandates on counties; the importance of PILT and SRS funding for counties at 2008 levels to counties and rural schools for at least 10 years;
· supporting a multi-year transportation bill that would identify a new, sustainable funding source to support highway and transit projects;
· adequate funding for the USFS for campground and trail maintenance, forest health, and wildfire protection needs as bark beetles continue to destroy at least 100,000 trees a week in Colorado;
· support for Child Welfare funding flexibility, especially supporting IV-E waivers that would allow counties to use preventative services to prevent more expensive foster care arrangements;
· support of Clean Colorado Coal technologies.
Commissioner Padgett worked with Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) staff to develop colorful maps to highlight the importance of PILT and SRS funds for counties. The SRS map, which highlights a loss of $10 million dollars of funds for FY2012 compared to FY2008, was impressive to both of the Senators and especially Representative DeGette, whose district receives no PILT or SRS funds. In speaking on the SRS issue, Commissioner Padgett said, "The fact that Colorado will lose $12.2 million dollars in FY2012, and that 75% of more of that money is distributed by the counties directly to local rural school districts affecting 480,000 Colorado school children, is an issue for all of Colorado. I hope you will all [all Colorado legislators] discuss this at your joint breakfast next week. To turn this around it will require immediate action with the ongoing House Resolution. Summit County and Eagle County are each reporting declines in property valuations by 30-35%. Half of the property tax revenues go to the schools. This is dire. The remainder of the SRS funds go to rural county Road and Bridge Departments to provide safe routes to schools."
Commissioner Padgett highlighted to Representative Tipton that his congressional district, the 3rd Congressional District, is going to lose $10 of that $12.2 million.
"Representative Tipton was very gracious and sincere about strengthening local-federal partnerships," Commissioner Padgett shared after a dinner at America's Restaurant in Union Station with Representative Tipton and his staff. Rep. Tipton invited the Colorado county officials to dinner on March 9th, and it was attended by over 25 county officials, primarily from the 3rd Congressional District.
Commissioner Padgett can be reached about this conference or any other county matter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-258-0836.