Crowder Town Hall Meeting Focuses on Education, Finance

Town Hall  with Senator Crowder

Town Hall with Senator Crowder

State Senator from District 35, Larry Crowder, tried to cover as many topics as possible for the full audience for his Town Hall Meeting this past Saturday, February 21, before he was on the road to La Junta for another session.

In anticipation of the pending weekend snows, Senator Crowder was in town Friday night to make the 9am to 10am session at the Lamar Community Building.   There was only time enough for about six or seven topics of concern, ranging from PERA , Public Employees Retirement Association to Common Cause financial backers, conservation easements, customer costs for renewable energy mandates, tax relief for drought-impacted farmers, Prairie Chickens  and progress on the Amtrak and Southwest Chief train route along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line.  Most questions were directed to financial impact for private citizens or progress on general economic development.

PERA members voiced their concerns about a potential loss of benefits from a selection of proposals from a state house bill, by selecting either a Defined Contribution Plan or a Defined Benefit.  “I believe people should have the option to make their own selection,” he told the audience, admitting that a poor selection would reduce benefits at the time of payout.  Crowder also stated that he believed the bill would die in the House and not make it to the Senate for a final vote.  He added that the way the pay out of 12% on investments overrides the 7.5% PERA charges, the system is still sound. “We’re trying to avoid a perfect storm financially and keep PERA healthy and continue to drive the economic engine in this state with future growth.  That’s how we’ll stay financially healthy.”

Crowder countered the question of how foreign investments in the textbook publishing world may coerce the curriculum of the Common Core teaching system.  “Colorado is just one of ten states in the country which is using Common Core, but it’s up to the local level to make the decisions to what they want to teach,” he explained.  The senator added that all districts in the country, not just Colorado, need to keep the bar raised for educational standards.  Chris Wilkinson, RE-2 school board member, said Common Core is tied to funding and expressed concerns about how the system finances the state school system at a cost, “We could lose $7,000 per student if Common Core goes away,” he told the senator.  Crowder replied, “There is no curriculum directly for Common Core, but we do need to expect more from our students and as time goes by, they need to expand their educational levels.  There’s too much time spent on testing, which is a part of Common Core basics.”  The senator said he felt that the program didn’t have much of a future in the country.

Property owner, Jillane Hixson, asked if the legislature could provide tax relief for farmers and ranchers who have been hit hard by the drought.  “Some of these legislators think that if we get rain for a while, the drought is all over,”  She said it’s unfair that because of the drought, a lot of  unused farm equipment and vehicles gets taxed when none of it is being used because there’s nothing to harvest.  “These registration fees are not helping when the average farmer usually pays out around $5,000 a year for equipment that lies idle,” she commented.  Crowder said there has been some movement to get the registration fees back to what they were several years ago.

There was some good news to discuss, regarding developments to maintain the Amtrak, Southwest Chief Route in southeast Colorado.  Prowers County Assessor, Andy Wyatt, asked for an update on the costs associated with rail line upgrades.  Crowder said TIGER grants have helped reduce the subsidies from $40 million to about $8.9 million.  He said that would be helpful because Burlington Northern Santa Fe has stated they would halt funding on the track by the beginning of next year.  “There are about 100 jobs in southeast Colorado tied to having the route maintained in this area.  There are plans to reroute the line from La Junta to Pueblo to Trinidad, and we might help the tourist industry with another line from Pueblo to Denver.”  Crowder said the I-25 corridor is a real mess right now and the state could capitalize on tourism by adding this new line, “I think we have a shot but we will need federal funding to help save this route or find a way to develop more state dollars,” he said.

State Representative Tim Dore was scheduled to share the Town Hall Meeting with Senator Crowder, but his appearance was postponed because of weather and travel concerns.  Dore’s Town Hall meeting in Lamar has been tentatively scheduled for Saturday, March 7.

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: AgricultureBusinesscommunityCountyEconomyEducationEnvironmentFeaturedLamarProwers CountySchoolTourismTransportation


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