Monday, March 23, 2009

Reports from Lone Cone Country

by Art Goodtimes

Attending NACo’s annual Legi meet

DC … The National Association of Counties (formerly the National Association of County Officials) is the organization that represents most of the 3000+ counties in the country, providing various services, hosting gatherings and (most importantly) lobbying for county interests on the national scene. Especially for things like increased federal transportation money, an end to unfunded mandates or PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) … Without federal help, roads in rural areas would mostly likely never get fixed. And without NACo lobbyists, rural interests could easily get forgotten in DC, where only those who push the hardest get heard … Unfunded mandates are the bane of local taxpayers. When the Feds require a program and don’t provide funds to pay for it, guess who picks up the tab? Yep, state taxpayers. Just as when the state mandates a program without providing funds to pay for it, it’s Joe and Jane Propertytaxpayer who end up footing the bill. NACo helps guard against unfunded federal mandates that trickle down increased costs to counties … And one area that I’ve been actively involved with since becoming a commissioner and getting involved in NACo has been the PILT program. Since many western counties have considerable federal land in their boundaries – lands that are exempt from local property taxes, NACo has been successful over the past 30+ years in lobbying for and getting money to local counties to off-set the avoided property tax revenue from untaxable federal lands. In San Miguel County about two-thirds of our land base is under federal ownership and unavailable to property taxation revenues … Although it’s been a long battle, just this past year – primarily through the astute legislative skill of our own Sen. (now Secretary) Ken Salazar, counties across the country have been fully funded PILT monies for the next four years – a boon of about $2 million dollars to San Miguel County alone. In these hard economic times, that’s a significant stimulus to local economies … And as Sec. Salazar told us in a private visit with the Colorado county delegation at NACo, it was primarily because of NACo -- and particularly the efforts of former Colorado Counties (CCI) Public Lands Chair Jake Klein [D-Otero County] -- that Salazar worked so hard to get counties full funding … Commissioner Elaine Fischer joined me at the annual NACo Legislative meet in DC this year – her expenses, like mine, paid for by the state organization. Elaine represented CCI in the Land Use and Natural Resources Committee and I represented CCI in Public Lands. It’s a testament to the increasing importance of progressive leadership in the state that our small county had two representatives on the national level in a state delegation of 42 Colorado attendees.

WEEKLY QUOTA“If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them.” -the late Sen. Paul Wellstone

JUNKET? … So, what did Elaine and I do on our trip to DC? Visit museums? Tour the monuments? I wish. There was a little time for fun on our five days in the nation’s capital. I did catch the first film of the annual Environmental Film Festival at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Elihu Root Auditorium one evening – enjoying a free screening of Maryam Henein and George Langworthy’s film-in-progress Return of the Honeybee, an investigative documentary about the economic, political and spiritual implications of the disappearance of honeybees worldwide, due to the synergistic effect of mites, pesticides and monocrop agriculture (or could it be radiation from cell phones, as European studies would seem to suggest?) … The first couple days of the trip were taken up with committee meetings. As a nine-year veteran of NACo’s Public Land Steering Committee, I saw a lot of old friends – many quite conservative, but all passionate about their perspective on public land issues. As one of the few outspoken liberals on this heavily Republican committee, I am often doing battle with bad ideas – like the resolution calling on NACo to lobby to open up lands around the Grand Canyon for uranium mining and to overturn a ban on mining there that Rep. Grijalva of Arizona was working to make into law. Together with progressive NACo Public Lands Chair Liz Archuleta, we succeeded in getting the resolution tabled … But this year, as a member of leadership (having been appointed by Archuleta to chair of the Gateway Communities Subcommittee), I got to invite speakers, including the well-spoken leader of the No-Fee Coalition of Durango, Kitty Benzar, to argue against double taxation for recreational users on public lands. And I set up a number of task forces composed of progressives and conservatives to work on resolutions together, to see if we can come up with some balanced measures in cyberspace that can be brought to our annual meeting in Nashville this summer for discussion and adoption … Next were several days of conference meetings and workshops, with a special private visit to Sec. Salazar’s new digs in the Dept. of Interior (he was most gracious and welcoming). And the last day was a grueling all-day race around the Hill visiting all nine members of the Colorado delegation, lobbying for our top issues – from continued PILT funding to federal help with renewable energy. We got to personally meet all our congressional members, trade business cards with their aides, and set up future discussions on select issues … You should talk with Commissioner Fischer to find out her perceptions of the trip, but once again I felt that local citizens greatly benefited from having new direct lines of access to congressional electeds and aides, so that when a local issue comes up having to do with the federal government, Commissioner Fischer and I will have lots of options for getting help and increasing local clout in D.C.

PATRICIA VIGIL … Such a dear soul. A Norwood girl, she married and had children and worked hard to get her doctorate against almost impossible odds. She only got to teach a few years, before cancer struck her down, but she left a shining trail. Took on the really tough assignments – prison classes and college extension work. I loved coming in and talking to her sociology students about politics and poetry, as she invited me as a guest lecturer several times. Dr. Vigil. A most amazing soul … I had the good fortune to visit her on her deathbed at her home in Olathe, the same night as a rare conjunction of the moon and a planet in the western sky. I held her hand, read a poem about a pilot light, sighed and laughed and cried. It is what friends do … And kissed her goodbye. Such a shining soul!

CHAVEZ … Widely underreported, Venezuela’s populist president won a referendum last month abolishing term limits for presidency of his oil-producing country -- some 54% of the electorate supporting his neo-Bolivarian revolution … Presidential term limits are one of the interesting set of checks & balances built into the American revolutionary system that have turned out beneficially for the Republic, but changing political leadership works best when the people have a relatively stable (if not immutable) Constitution. In nation-states where the military plays a big political role, stable civilian leadership is almost always preferable to military coups.

SKI TWO … I can see why skiing’s addictive. Sliding down steep slopes attached to incredibly rigid boots & tapered boards with edges, gliding back & forth left to right, slushing through white mud – all of it is great fun. Something most everyone else in this town already knew … So call me slow. At 63 I’m having a ball suiting up at the Boot Doctor with ace rental czar Troy Leedy. Hanging out on Lift 10 with Placerville birthday girl Juliet Benman, her sister Camille and dad. And skiing alongside the legendary Bear Creek backbowl ace Steve Green and his family … Even baker curmudgeon Jerry Green was nice to me at Big Billies. I want a ski pass next year!



Change is the new,

improved word for god,

lovely enough

to raise a song

or implicate

a sea of wrongs,

mighty enough

like other gods

to shelter,

bring together

and estrange us.

Please, god,

we seem to say,

Change us!

-Wendy Videlock (Grand Junction)

as performed by EAR at the Cortez Library

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